75. Paul Kafno’s The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (2005)
Normally, dear readers, cute middlebrow approaches to Shakespeare fill my heart with hate, so I was aggravated when a friend of mine just gave me a copy of The Reduced Shakespeare Company’s The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).
The good news is that the trio of performers—Adam Long, Reed Martin, and Austin Tichenor—are actually wickedly funny, and surprisingly good actors when they stop joking, though they seldom stop joking. The play is a meta-theatrical presentation in which there is both a fairly decent sense of history as well as a sense of how the themes of the play seem timely now. These actors have clearly lived with Shakespeare’s texts awhile, and can treat them with loving familiarity and the odd doses of contempt.
There are 37 of Shakespeare’s plays, and thankfully Long, Martin, and Tichenor don’t plow through them one by one. There are a lot of very broad strokes. In some ways, they definitely cheat to get to all 37. I can’t offer more summary than that without spoiling the fun of this show, and—unlike the films of Baz Luhrman or Michael Almereyda—The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)is worth not spoiling.
Their costumes—vaguely Elizabethan clothes over Chuck Taylor All-Stars—convey the spirit of the show. There is a bouncy sense that knowledge and understanding are relative, even though they know and understand plenty.
My only complaint is that I want to see them also do Shakespeare straight, in a different show. They are that good. Though if I could stick them into a Shakespeare comedy, they might go insane, which would also be good. These gents have won over a jaded knave such as myself. They’d probably do the same for you, if you’re my friend.
John King (Episode, well, all of them) holds a PhD in English from Purdue University, and an MFA from New York University. He has reviewed performances for Shakespeare Bulletin.