It’s good to know the Utah Shakespearean Festival has a sense of humor about its patron saint.
“The Compleat Works of Wllm. Shkspr (Abridged),” part of the festival’s inaugural fall season, uses three actors to perform, summarize and skewer all of the Bard’s plays in one two-hour show.
The production is giddy and fast-paced, but not rushed. Much of the humor assumes the audience has at least basic knowledge of Shakespeare’s works, especially “Romeo and Juliet” and “Hamlet,” on which the most time is spent. The gory “Titus Andronicus,” a lesser-known play, is made into a macabre cooking show — funny, but much, much funnier if you’ve actually read the play, which most audiences probably have not. Which makes it an odd choice. But oh, well.
Even for a Shakespeare novice, there is entertainment, as long as you don’t want it too high-brow: A lot of the jokes are just gleefully immature. Romeo says, “Call me but love and I’ll be new baptized,” so Juliet calls him “Butt Love” thereafter; one cast member refuses to do “Coriolanus” because “I don’t like the ‘anus’ part”; the brief history of Shakespeare’s life somehow turns into a biography of Hitler (“Shakespeare invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939…”).
The three performers are a talented, vibrant bunch, improvising and adapting to their hearts’ content and involving the audience as much as possible. Michael Fitzpatrick is the reliable straight-man; Brian Vaughn is the erudite, high-falutin’ Shakespeare scholar; and Gregory Ivan Smith is the well-meaning simpleton who plays most of the female roles and who is convinced that no heroine dies without vomiting on the audience first.
All 16 of Shakespeare’s comedies are condensed into one brief sketch; the play’s authors (Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield) wisely realized that it is much easier to do a parody of a tragedy than of a comedy, so they get those comedies out of the way quickly.
That leaves time for a rap version of “Othello” (to Othello, in regards to his suffocating of Desdemona: “She was pure, she was clean, she was viriginal, too/So why’d you have to go and make her face turn blue?”), an all-Scottish “Macbeth,” and a football game condensing all of the history/king plays into one.
The three actors are assisted by Jered “Rollerboy” Tanner, who rides inline skates and acts as a stage hand. He also wears signs on his back promoting the fact that he appears much more prominently in the festival’s other fall show, “Forever Plaid.”
In fact, “Compleat Works” is full of small, subtle jokes like that. Watch the costumes, listen to the music, pay attention to what each performer is doing at all times, because there’s lots to see. There are even references to the roles the actors played in this summer’s main festival shows (“You were terrible as Edgar!” Smith hollers at Vaughn in reference to the latter’s performance in “King Lear.”)
The show pays homage to Shakespeare as much as it mocks him; this may actually be a fair introduction to the Bard for a first-timer. But never mind the show’s educational value, which is dubious anyway. The point here is to dance, act, whine and soliloquize through Shakespeare’s works, raucously and without regard to political correctness. And to that end, the show succeeds marvelously.
I had seen this show once before, at Provo Theatre Company, before I became a critic. It's a marvelous show, one of those rare plays that requires very little technically (some costumes and props, but not elaborate set) -- but requires three extraordinarily capable actors. Which is why it doesn't get done more often: It's easy, relatively speaking, to construct huge sets and put on shows with enormous casts doing elaborate dance numbers. But when it comes to finding three really, REALLY talented actors, well, that's a pretty tall order.
If you ever see this show, I recommend NOT seeing it with an audience full of high school students who have been bused in, because they will literally applaud every dirty joke that gets made, so undeveloped are their senses of humor.