Blake Nelson in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)[Revised]photo by Matt Emrich

The Bard at Mach II

How fast can you read 154 sonnets on a 3x5 card?

Ah, Shakespeare. The Bard of Avon. The writer whose work forms one of the twin foundations of the entire modern English language. (The other is the King James Bible. What were those 17th-century Brits smoking, anyway?)

No one who commands such authority in any field can long escape parody, good natured or otherwise. And so it is that three earnest playwrights — Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield — penned The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [Revised], which made its debut at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1987 and, on Oct. 11, opened the new season at Cottage Theatre.

The play claims the world record for the fastest production of Hamlet, at 43 seconds, and the fastest staging of Hamlet, backwards, at 42 seconds.

What you get is just under two hours of fast-paced schtick in the form of a semi-improv backstage comedy. Three actors set out to compress all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays into a single madcap performance, tearing down, naturally, the fourth wall in the process — expect a fair amount of audience interaction on this one, including an opportunity to take part in acting out Ophelia’s subconscious — and weaving slapstick into everything from Twelfth Night to Hamlet and Macbeth.

Kory Weimer, Chelsey Megli and Blake Nelson play, respectively, Kory, Chelsey and Blake — remember, we’re eroding the fourth wall — in the Cottage Theatre production, which is directed by Rachel Froom.

Weimer, a regular at the little community theater (Romeo and Juliet, Jekyll & Hyde, Jesus Christ Superstar), dominates the show with his sharp, elastic energy. He also gets the most moving moment in the play, a moment that alleviates the endless comedy, when he gives a famous soliloquy from Hamlet, “What a piece of work is man.”

Cottage Theatre is going through a tragicomedy of its own this year, as its long-planned remodeling and theater expansion project has stalled under the weight of a construction bid that, at the last moment, jumped up by $1 million.

Meanwhile, the theater removed the old seats from the hall before new seats arrived, and they’ve been delayed a month, executive director Susan Goes explained in her curtain talk on opening night. Hence all those folding chairs, which I’m happy to blame for the evening’s feeling just a touch long.

The Complete Works, of course, works best for an audience well acquainted with the Bard. For some of us it might feel like a senior English test in spot the allusion. Rolling all of Shakespeare’s comedies into a single work whose plot hinges on long-lost twins, false identities and an ocean voyage is funnier for people who realize just how often those three tropes show up in actual Shakespeare comedies.

You’ll get enough of the jokes, though, whether or not you’ve ever seen All’s Well That Ends Well or Coriolanus. ν

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [Revised] runs through Oct. 27 at Cottage Theatre in Cottage Grove. Tickets and more information at

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