Expectant chatter filled the scantly renovated Cottage Theatre this past weekend for the Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), their first production since last spring.
Bony bums wary of generic folding chairs currently filling the aisles, Shakespearean novices dreading the impending iambic pentameter and “why is there a Triceratops on the stage?” — original plans for an extensive facelift were somewhat botched when construction costs suddenly doubled, a major setback for executive director Susan Goes and the rest of the team over at the small Cottage Grove theater.
In a delightfully ironic twist, Cottage Theatre braves the remodeling storm with a frenzied improvisational tornado, so ridiculous that all you can do is laugh and collect your continental chocolate.
Written by Reduced Shakespeare Company founders Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) is the creatively condensed outline of Shakespeare’s entire catalog, heavily dependent on ad-libbing, collaborative cohesion and frequent, if not anxiety producing, audience participation. Though the structure and general script remains constant, no two shows are ever the same.
Directed by Rachel Froom and brilliantly performed by only three actors — Chelsy Megli, Blake Nelson and Kory Weimer — Cottage Theatre’s production is the self-effacing senior college student seeking revenge on her fellow Shakespearean scholars. The show is a parody of Shakespeare as much as it is an homage.
Preeminent scholars can take the night off. The play is bookended by two of Shakespeare’s most well-known plays, Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, making it accessible to those who are intimate with Shakespeare’s work as well as those who fall under the category of left brain engineers (I’m married to one).
The bare-bones set consists of a projection screen, allowing the players to travel distant lands, along with a few enchanted prop trunks filled with a converted basement’s imagination. Megli, Nelson and Weimer wear a blank canvas of Converse tennis shoes and Scrooge-ish nightshirts. Tiaras, golf clubs, the unending silk scarves of a clown, bad wigs, pointy swords, shiny capes, simple sunglasses and a couple of kilts make up the majority of the minimalist costumer’s closet (props by Glenda Koyama and costume design Rhonda Turnquist).
As a marathon of skits — including an excessive amount of vomit but just the right amount of dick jokes — the Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is a sloppy albeit hilarious Mel Brooksian compilation. A Romeo and Juliet Western bleeds into a gory Titus Andronicuscooking show. Marginal accents, including a Scottish/Australian hybrid and a hairless Groundskeeper Willie, make up Macbeth.
The comedies are lumped into a convoluted cache of gender-hopping marriage plots, while the histories are acted out in a frantic, rotating football game. Naturally, Hamlet in all its Freudian duplicities takes up the entire second act, with a heavy and sometimes slow emphasis on audience participation.
Cottage Theatre’s production is a ceaseless romp through funny town, though a couple of experimental, par-for-the-course sour strokes were felt in the night. A Stranger Things reference went over the greying heads of season ticket holders, and a couple of Jewish jokes drew some pained gasps, though the Italian epithets went by unnoticed — who could blame them?
Despite the renovation woes in the CT community, all is well on the small stage. A Bardy bravo to the entire creative team for an immersive, imaginative and supremely funny production, no doubt a sign of good things to come.
Get your tickets now all you Shakespeare lovers and haters— You will not want to miss the fun.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)[Revised] plays through Oct. 27 at Cottage Theatre; info, times and tickets at cottagetheatre.org.