To describe “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” is to steal a turn of phrase from Ron Swanson, “Give me all the William Shakespeare you have.”
And that’s not an exaggeration, either. It’s (as the title suggests) abridged, but this play manages to cover pretty much everything The Bard ever wrote, from his comedies to his tragedies, even his sonnets. Though don’t mistake this for some kind of symposium on Shakespeare’s works, it’s mostly aimed at outrageously skewering these classic works.
Chris Brantley, Will Ross and Blake Winningham play Chris Brantley, Will Ross and Blake Winningham, three men committed to presenting to you, the audience, every work Shakespeare ever wrote. As, allegedly, passionate experts on the subject, their method for unfolding this madness is … unexpected.
Have you ever wanted to see “Titus Andronicus” done as a cooking show? How about “Othello” related as a rap song? “Hamlet” performed backwards? They do that, too.
The jokes come flying at a fast and furious pace, and half the fun of the show comes from the energy and madcap pace that propels this thing forward. The zaniness may stand in direct contrast to so many of the plays brought up, but that’s all part of the fun. Meta-humor and fourth wall-breaking jokes can often become tiresome, but thankfully none of these moments are ever dwelled on long enough for them to wear out their welcome. Plus, the whole affair is sort of laid out as one giant interaction from the get-go, so the play, at least, lets you know precisely what you’re in for.
Anyone who’s well-versed in these works will obviously get the most out of this show, but it’s not going to go flying over the heads of those who aren’t Shakespeare scholars.
Shakespeare’s plays were written to be enjoyed by the masses, and in more than a few ways that’s mirrored here. There are nuances that will be missed by many, but there’s still plenty of slapstick, wordplay and just all-around insanity
slapstick, wordplay and just all-around insanity that, even if you’ve never seen a play or read a single word of Shakespeare, you’ll still get some good laughs out of this.
But for as much as the play likes to point and laugh at the absurdity of some of Shakespeare’s plots (he really only had about five different plots, it declares) and how much of a weirdo the guy was based on some of his writing, there’s also some genuine affection in there. Look no further than the heartfelt delivery of a monologue from “Hamlet” by Ross for proof of that.
The cast works, too. This sort of thing won’t fly at all if there’s no sense of timing between the players and thankfully these guys come together well enough to make it all fit. Brantley is the MVP here with an energy (and voice) that stands out.
More than anything, this is just fun. It’s silly, but it’s an intellectually satisfying kind of silly, one that manages to mix lowbrow humor with Shakespeare and somehow make it seem like a natural fit.
“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” opens tonight at 7:30 at APEX Theater 20 @ Potter Place. The theater is at the rear of the Energy Center Building, 719 W. Front St. in Tyler.
For additional performance dates or to reserve tickets, call 903-740-5387 or visit www.apextheatre20.com .
Editor’s note: This play has a sense of humor that could best be described as “PG-13.” Just something to keep in mind.