This past Friday night I attended Wasatch Theatre Company’s The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged). I should have guessed by the show’s title that it would offer some serious bang for your buck, but I had not anticipated the slapstick style Shakespeare that was about to shake up my night. Actors Jim Martin, Brian Pilling, and George Plautz set the scene for the outrageous events of the night with a brief (and hilariously inaccurate) history of Shakespeare, as well as an explanation of the need for such an undertaking. The actors hastily explained that modern technology and social media were rotting away our minds, and that society could use a healthy infusion of Shakespeare to awaken our intellect. The trio then jump-started the action with an enthusiastic “May the Bard be with You!” and set to their ridiculous task of performing the entire works of Shakespeare in one evening.
You may find yourself wondering how such a performance is possible, as most audience members also did upon entering the theatre. After a relatively lengthy portrayal of Romeo and Juliet, many audience members uncomfortably shifted in their seats and wondered if we would be there all night. Thankfully, the actors quickly explained that things would need to be sped up if any of us were going to make it home that night. The trio quickly worked their way through several tragedies before making a stop to deal with the comedies. All sixteen comedies were summarized in one short blasphemous sketch, in which the actors condensed the plays into a single storyline. This was confusing, as well as disappointing, as some of my favorite Shakespeare plays fall under the comedy category. The actors quickly moved on to the histories, which they decided to liven up by reciting the titles in the form of a string of sports plays. All nine history plays were shouted out as the men enacted several seemingly epic football maneuvers. Thanks to these succinct presentations of the comedies and histories, the trio had a chance to touch upon what they referred to as “the miscellaneous plays, or, the bad plays”, as well as Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets, which they condensed into a 3×5 notecard. The remainder of the Tragedies took a great deal of time to be played out, including several renditions of Hamlet. Although the second (faster) and third (fastest) renditions seemed unnecessary, the fourth was unexpectedly impressive, as the actors performed the entire sequence backwards.
The over-the-top acting style, compulsory audience participation, and borderline creepy innuendos of The Complete Works were nearly too much. However, the cast always managed to rope the audience back in just in time, using a delightful bit of self-mockery and physical comedy. At every wacky turn there seemed to be a pop culture reference, political jab, or unexpected stumble to save the day. This consistent alternating between embarrassing the audience and embarrassing one another kept the actors as grounded as they could possibly be, and even mustered a bit of audience adoration. Perhaps my favorite aspect of the physical comedy was the surprisingly realistic swords. I am always delighted when a prop master takes the time to create props that are both functional and realistic. I couldn’t help but smile when the actors took to clanging metal on metal and the swords gave off a sharp cling-clang sound with every blow. A somewhat less impressive, but equally enjoyable, prop appeared later on in the performance, as the ghost in Hamlet appeared as a floating sock. This prop ultimately became a costume when Jim Martin made an unexpectedly hilarious entrance in a man-sized gym sock. Perhaps the only moment of the night that fell completely flat was the use of rapping to tell the story of Othello. This concept undoubtedly had the potential to be entertaining. However, it amounted to a dud as the actors blatantly stated they were going to portray the story via rapping “because Othello was black”. The absurd string of politically incorrect mannerisms and semantics left the audience feeling altogether uncomfortable and disrupted the flow of an otherwise lighthearted rhythm.
I was generally stunned by the production as a whole, as the cast referred to Shakespeare’s works as “boring”, “cold”, and “comedic diarrhea”. However, I was able to reconcile my hardened view when Jim Martin discovered that “characters have layers” in the second act. He demonstrated this concept in a laughably absurd outfit, which consisted of several layers of uncoordinated costumes. Furthermore, Brian Pilling and George Plautz ultimately redeemed the overall arc of the show by teaching the audience that Shakespeare can be “both emotional and intellectual”. This revelation followed one of the only straight faced monologues of the night, which was a much-needed nod to the Bard himself. Brian Pilling also did a spectacular job of bringing clarity to the hectic production by weaving together the sometimes confusing runs of hurried Shakespearean text. Although I might not recommend this production to those who are easily offended or take their Shakespeare too seriously, I would definitely recommend it to those looking for a good-spirited night of live comedy. Wasatch Theatre Company was without a doubt able to accomplish the seemingly impossible, performing the complete works of William Shakespeare in one night. Hence, my curious friend, this production is nothing to bite your thumb at.
Performances of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” are scheduled Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings at 8:00 p.m. beginning October 11 and continuing through October 27, 2012, with 2:00 p.m. Saturday matinees on October 20 and 27. Performance will take place at the Studio Theatre at the Rose Wagner Center for Performing Arts (138 West 300 South). Tickets are $15.00 and can be purchased at www.arttix.org or by calling 801-355-2787.