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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) By Chesley Plemmons
By Chesley Plemmons

Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently; for in the very torrent, tempest, and as I may say, whirlwind of your passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness
— Hamlet advising a band of players on acting style
Complete works
font size="1">Josh Aaron McCabe, Ryan Winkles, and Charls Sedgwick Hall.(Photo credit: Kevin Sprague)
Conventional wisdom would suggest that anyone with limited familiarity with the works of the Bard might consider a performance of The Complete Works as a crash course in Shakespeare. After all, a production that boasts it will present all 37 of his plays (in less than two hours no less) must have appeal in today's instant gratification environment. However, the exact opposite is true. Yes, all the comedies, tragedies and histories make an appearance, albeit brief to the point of a nano second. But presented in bits and pieces, tatters and titters, low burlesque comedy, contemporary rap music and sometimes in tongue twisting gymnastics, only those well versed in these plays will likely get the spoof or satirical point. That's not to say the unsoaked in Shakespearean poetry will not find some fun here for the production proceeds along two parallel paths.

One a clever mashup of the plays in which the humor often lies in the combination of plots, characters and famous lines. The other, the broadest of burlesque style comedy with the actors wearing ridiculous makeup and wigs, performing in definitely over the top style.
About the actors — there are only three to complete this marathon endeavor: Charis Sedgwick Hall, Josh Aaron McCabe and Ryan Winkles and they are never still for a moment; nor are theyguilty of taking an unnecessary breath as they totally deconstruct the masterpieces at hand.

Hamlet's sage advice to actors, stated above, is ignored in favor of pratfalls, corny audience participation and everything antic except a pie in the face. (Did I miss that?)
The first half has more variety than the second, opening with a scene between Romeo and Tybalt which suggests things might be going to be played "the right way." Matters soon segue, however, into a television cooking show, which allows for the cold-blooded Titus Andronicus to do bloody work in the name of cuisine. (I doubt anyone in the television audience would want to be sitting close enough to be offered samples.)
For the sake of brevity, all 16 comedies are morphed into one gigantic mix-up: The Comedy of Two Well-Measured Gentlemen Lost in the Merry Wives of Venice on a Midsummer's Twelfth Night in Winter. Put that on a marquee!
Most of the tragedies are slaughtered before the end of the first act. Hamlet occupies the place of honor, taking up much of the second act as the indefatigable trio manages to act it at regular speed, fast, faster and finally backwards.

The production uses speed as its current and with the help of admirable back stage assistants, the promised deadline is achieved with nary a plot nor major character excluded. Obviously for those who are "in" on the spoof, each subsequent viewing may prove less inspired (a tragedy of satire) and broad comedy has its limits too with regards to its freshness date.
Each new production of this much done work stands on the strength of appealing performers and a skillful director. Shakespeare and Company meets both of those requirements with the aforesaid merry trio and Jonathan Croy at the helm.

How any times will I happily see this show? I'm no dope. Eventually everyone knows when too much is de trop.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
By Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield
Directed by Jonathan Croy
Cast: Charis Sedgwick, Josh Aaron McCabe, Ryan Winkles
Costume design: Govane Lohbauer
Scenic design: Patrick Brennan, Jonathan Croy
Lighting design: Matthew E. Adelson
Stage manager: Hope Rose Kelly
Through August 24
Tina Packer Playhouse Shakespeare&Company 70 Tremble Street, Lenox, Mass.
Performances are evenings at 7 and 7:30 and matinees at 2 (check the website for exact schedule)
Running time: 2 hours including one 15-minute intermission.
Tickets are $15 to $80 with discounts for groups, students, seniors, teachers and military. There is a 40% discount for Berkshire County
Reviewed by Chesley Plemmons
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