Forget everything you thought you knew about Shakespeare. Throw the fancy costumes, complex language and elaborate plotlines out the window. What you’re left with is probably something similar to the Del Rey Players’ current production of “The Complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged).”
In fact, throw out any expectation of a traditional theatre production of any type. This hilarious show, which is a decidedly gym-shorts-and-tennis-shoes affair, masterfully blurs the line between improvisation and script, between entertainer and audience and between actor and character.
“Three friends are just hanging out and decide to perform the complete works of Shakespeare, but they only have 90 minutes,” said sophomore theatre arts major Nick Pugliese, who plays himself. In fact, each of the three actors — Pugliese and sophomore theatre arts majors Matt Gold and Nichola Marick — portray themselves, making it hard to say whether Pugliese was describing the production itself or an average evening among thespians.
Pugliese tells me this as he mingles with the audience at the beginning of the show. In any other production, such casual interactions with audience members would be forbidden. But this is far from a regular show.
Given that the cast had to perform more 30 plays in only 90 minutes, you’ll understand my confusion when the cast’s rendition of “Romeo and Juliet” lasts the entire first 40 minutes. My worries are put to rest when the cast moved on to “Titus Andronicus,” which is acted out as a three-minute cooking show. You read that right: a cooking show.
Up next is a rap version of Othello, followed by every single one of Shakespeare’s comedies condensed into story. Those familiar with Shakespeare will find this distillation of his comedies especially amusing; the reduction of all 17 plays into a few minutes of love triangles and mistaken identities makes for surprisingly effective parody.
“Every rehearsal we started with warm ups and improv games. Sometimes we did that for the first hour or more of rehearsal,” said sophomore theatre arts major Eden Rousso, who directed the production.
The work the cast did to develop their comedic improvisation is the key to the show’s success. Only a portion of the stage time is dedicated to Shakespeare itself, while the rest is given to seemingly ad-libbed banter about where to stand, what props to use and whether or not to even attempt “Hamlet.”
“Every show is different, which is why I enjoy watching it every night,” Rousso said.
All three actors demonstrate a strong capacity for physical humor, acting with exaggerated gestures and wild motions reminiscent of Vaudeville, or even the Three Stooges. In such a small theater — the Del Rey Theatre is a small black box — such in-your-face acting would normally be too over the top. However, Gold, Marick and Pugliese are so authentic and relentless in their efforts to engage the audience that their gags are nearly impossible to resist.
Rousso described her directing approach as “just forceful editing,” allowing the cast to take the show a new direction each performance. In rehearsal, “Someone would make a choice, and I'd be like, ‘Oh my god, no.’ Or I would laugh and tell them to keep it,” said Rousso. “And I had to encourage them to keep making new choices and improving even when they made a great choice, to keep it fresh and fun.”
At times, the production feels a little self-indulgent, coming across like an extended team-building activity from theatre camp. Although such exercises can be tiring to watch, the audience spends very little time simply watching. The show is indeed a game, but everyone gets to play.
If you choose to attend — and you should — expect to participate. Expect to be called out for texting. Expect to be pulled on stage. And don’t rule out the possibility of ending up in the front-row splash zone wearing a neon poncho. “The Complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged)” has two more shows, Wednesday, Dec. 9, and Thursday, Dec. 10. Tickets are available at lmucfa.com.
This is the opinion of Michael Busse, a senior entrepreneurship major from Eugene, Oregon. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.