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A CurtainUp Review
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
by David Lohrey

I am Omelette, the Cheese Danish.
--- Hamlet
The Complete  Cast of  the Complete Shakespeare
The Complete Cast of the Complete Shakespeare (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Despite its many charms -- principally in the performers' acrobatic gusto -- this theatre piece (I can't quite bring myself to call it a play) leaves much to be desired. That said, I should add that this may be a personal take. Adam Long, Daniel Singer, Jess Winfield have found lots of enthusiasts for their romp through the Bard's entire ouevre. Director Jeremy Dobrich is only the latest to undertake the three-member Shakespearean marathon. In fact, Shakespeare & Company in Lenox whose work is much admired by CurtainUp's editor, mounted a production during Summer 2000 that met with such positive that it was reprised last summer. (The review is linked below).

For this reviewer, The Complete Works. . .  , at least this production, is a show with a barker full of obsequious, crowd-pleasing admonitions, shameless pandering and folksy flattery. Everything is pitched to please. It's not that it isn't fun, but that there's an offensive undercurrent between the yuks and guffaws. What coarsens the proceedings is the assumption of audience ignorance, but rather than being condescended to -- which would be offensive enough -- but we are catered to and there's a sort of self-congratulatory ignorance that offends.

The proscenium itself is done up in a faux Tudor d├ęcor that both establishes the setting and captures the evenings' tone. In no time the actors are out front encouraging the audience to buy Tee shirts and souvenirs on display in the lobby. After an amusing prologue, the three talented jesters enact a series of skits that can be loosely tied to the plays of William Shakespeare but that are hardly the reductions promised by the advertisers.

In the first act, Romeo and Juliet, is given its due (a full ten minutes) and represents the company at its best. David Turner (Juliet) makes his first of many drag appearances and manages in the process to reveal considerable comic skills. His is the most consistent talent, possessing as he does an entire repertory of smiles, grimaces, and frowns, and a lithe figure that allows him to move like a sprite through the evening's numerous roles, male and female. His Romeo, Peter Ackerman, plays well, but is perhaps most successful when speaking directly to the audience as the scholar MC. His spontaneous humor and infectious charm are used to great effect with the audience as a whole and with individual members invited on stage. Finally, Jeremy Shamos's Nurse is a comic delight. Shamos, like the others, works at a frantic pace, offering fresh, seemingly improvised, interpretations of Shakespeare's many characters, both loved and loathsome.

The remaining comedies are reduced, or more accurately dismissed in a single fairly forgettable skit.. Julius Caesar is given short shrift, as is Macbeth, and then the skilled cast takes on Titus Andronicus, written as a take-off on television cooking shows. Othello is sung as a crude rap song because, we are told, there's no black in the cast to handle the role. Finally, after a one line dismissal of the sonnets, the first act ends with a promise to return in the second to Hamlet.

It was at this point that I began to formulate my response to the proceedings, finding them for the most part zippy, funny, and pointless, an assault on the assumption articulated through the ages that theatre should both uplift as well as entertain and not be a tribute to bodily function humor.

If you come to the show thinking you need to know Shakespeare, forget about it. You don't need to know anything. All that's required is to laugh every time you hear the word vomit -- repeated like a Greek epithet in Homer. The barf joke punctuates the boob crack, which is meant as the set up for the prick line.

One hesitates to be so hard on a show that never promised more. After all, does one send back a McDonald's burger because it doesn't taste like a steak?

To read a more benign take on these shenanigans, though pertaining to a different and differently titled production go here

Playwrights: Adam Long, Daniel Singer, Jess Winfield.
Director: Jeremy Dobrish.

Cast: Peter Ackerman, Jeremy Shamos, David Turner.
Set Design: Steven Capone.
Costume Design: Markas Henry.
Lighting Design: Michael Gottlieb.
Original Music & Sound Design: Lewis Flinn.
Running Time: 2 hours, including one 10-minute intermission
Century Center Theatre, 111 East 15th Street (Park Av.S./Irving Pl.) 212/ 239-6200.
From 10/15/2001 --open run; opening 10/15/01
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Reviewed by David Lohrey based on performance of 10/14/01.
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