Atlanta’s Shakespeare Tavern delivers comedic delight with their current production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). Upon the opening of the show, the actors proudly announce that they will deliver all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays within a mere two hours, proceeding to reinterpret his classic works however they see fit in order to meet that goal. While audience members with a deeper knowledge of Shakespeare might appreciate some of the subtler references and jokes, the majority of the hijinks are entertaining for all. According to the Shakespeare Tavern website’s “bardometer” rating, the difficulty of understanding Shakespeare (Abridged) is 1 out of 10, which is to say that this is no ordinary Shakespeare.
Many of the plays within the play deviate sharply from their origins, becoming a hip-hop routine or a football game. To mention more would spoil the surprise, but most of the adaptations follow a similar pattern. A few of the plays are performed as actual plays, but even then the dialogue rarely sticks to the original text. Furthermore, the costuming is laughably and intentionally sub-par in quality. The ridiculous nature of the costumes is accentuated by the fact that the show only features three actors, which means frequent rapid costume changes with a fair amount of crossdressing for good measure.
The three actors each serve well in their varied parts. Nicholas Faircloth stands out as the zaniest and most dim-witted of the bunch, becoming lovable in the stupidity of his persona. At the other end of the spectrum is Daniel Parvis, who seems to be the most rational member of the group, playing an excellent straight man to the madness around him. Matt Felten falls somewhere in between the other two, never entirely logical or idiotic. His recurring death pose is iconic in its excessiveness, and his shortness also adds to the comedy of several scenes.
Despite the constant devastation of Shakespeare’s works by the actors, it is clear that they all hold a sincere respect for Shakespeare and each could play a serious role if they so desired. Each actor has at least one moment when he embraces a somber tone and delivers his lines in true Shakespearean style. However, these moments ultimately act as a foil to the lighter tones of the rest of the performance, jarringly jumping straight back into the comedy as soon as they are over. The fact that each of the main actors could do legitimate Shakespeare, and indeed each of them has performed traditionally at the Shakespeare Tavern in the past, makes the show even funnier when each actor chooses not to.
As always at the Shakespeare Tavern, the audience is acknowledged and spoken to throughout the show. At one point, the audience even becomes involved in the recreation of a scene from one of Shakespeare’s plays. In this and other moments, the Shakespeare Tavern adds its own bit of color to make this show its own. There are parts of the script, such as a Lady Gaga reference, that are obviously adapted for current audiences, and other little jokes seem to be original or even improvised by the actors. The choice of silly props is equally amusing, though some elements are standard fare for this play. Furthermore, starting with the very first moments of the show, there are interspersed moments of some recognizable musical tunes. All of these elements make this production unique.
Whether audiences are Shakespeare fans or not, Shakespeare (Abridged) provides a fun two-hour experience of three men goofing off. By playfully toying with the source material, they put on a show that is anything but boring. Shakespeare (Abridged) is playing at the Shakespeare Tavern through July 31.