Shakespeare reduced to compleat silliness

April 18, 1997|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

One indication of whether a work has achieved the status of a classic is how well it holds up to subsequent interpretations. This is certainly true of Shakespeare's plays, which have been updated and re-interpreted in every fathomable way.

And, judging from director Terry J. Long's gleeful production at the Spotlighters, it's also true of "The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged)," a spoof created by Jess Borgeson, Adam Long and Daniel Singer, who call themselves the Reduced Shakespeare Company.

Once performed exclusively by this tongue-in-cheek "RSC," "The Compleat Works" has now been unleashed on aspiring Shkspr-eans everywhere. Some might be daunted by the frantic silliness of the piece, but the Spotlighters' Kurt Herring, James .. Markiewicz and Craig Newell are up to the challenge.

Somewhere between "Fractured Fairy Tales" and "Saturday Night Live," "The Compleat Works" varies in comic impact, but that variability is due to the script, not the performances. At its best, the show's silliness is inspired -- as in a sketch that transforms Shakespeare's bloody "Titus Andronicus" into a cooking program. If the Bard were alive today, Markiewicz suggests during the play, "He'd be in Hollywood working on 'Titus Andronicus IX -- Just Desserts.' "

Also inspired is a skit that turns the history plays into a football game. With a crown (courtesy of Burger King) serving as the ball, the players include "that father-and-son team of Henry IV and Prince Hal," King Lear (who's disqualified on the grounds of being a fictional character) and Henry VIII, who pauses at the five-yard line to cut off his wife's head.

The send-ups of two of Shakespeare's most famous plays, however, are the most disappointing parts of the evening. "Macbeth's" weak stab at humor consists primarily of Newell's Macbeth feigning a Scottish accent by making exaggerated trilling noises and appending the prefix "mac" to every other word he utters.

Less inspired yet is a lackluster, drawn-out "Hamlet," which takes up the entire second act and involves lots of audience participation, followed by two fast-forward renditions and a coda in which the play is performed backward. It's worth sitting through this act, however, to see Herring's Valley Girl version of Ophelia.

Herring is a hoot in all the production's female roles -- from Juliet, whose romantic problems are complicated by a bad hair day, to Hamlet's mother, Gertrude, who speaks in a voice reminiscent of Edith Bunker.

But then, all three actors deliver "compleat" performances, dashing to and fro with carefully controlled abandon. These hard-working gentlemen are clearly enjoying themselves, and that spirit carries over to the audience.

Encouraged by the script, director Long has added updated references. These range from O. J.'s Bronco to Cuba Gooding's trademark, "Show me the money," and they heighten the merriment of a show that, in the words of Markiewicz's narrator, attempts to capture "in a single theatrical experience, the magic, the genius, the towering grandeur of 'The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.' "

Of course, it doesn't come close. What it captures instead is the type of wisecracking sendups you wish you'd thought of when your boring 11th-grade English teacher was taking all the fun out of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." OK. Make it 10th grade. Sophomoric -- but funny.

'Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged)'

Where: Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul St.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; through May 18

Tickets: $10

Call: 410-752-1225

Pub Date: 4/18/97

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