Shakespeare got no respect when he was alive, and he’s had an uphill battle ever since. He’s been misquoted, re-written (the Victorians gave all the tragedies happy endings), and sanitized to make him safe for young minds. In our time, Hamlet is now that Mel Gibson movie, and last year’s film of Othello was marketed as the “erotic thriller of the year”. Now comes the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s production of The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr: Abridged at the UCCB Boardmore Playhouse (on Apr. 26, 27, 28) to restore poor Willy to his proper place in English literature as the inventor of burlesque.
In this play written by Jess Borgeson, Adam Long and Daniel Singer, Othello becomes a rap song, the grisly Titus Andronicus becomes a cooking show (don’t ask), the history plays are played all at once as a football game, and all sixteen comedies are collapsed into one convoluted tale of magic and mistaken identity. In an effort to prove that “the comedies aren’t half as funny as the tragedies”, Hamlet is performed at ever faster speeds and then backwords. The whole play is fast on its feet, clever, and often uproariously funny; and the high energy cast and director pumped every laugh out of the script that they could find.
The Reduced Shakespeare Co. in this case was Dennis Gillis, Robin McKettrick, and Mike McPhee – three excellent and demonically funny stage comedians. This is an intensely physical play, full of pratfalls and sight gags and, for the two high speed acts, this threesome performed full out. They all played multiple roles in multiple plays: Gillis was especially good as an effeminate Romeo, a whiney Juliet’s Nurse (a la Fran Drescher), an Elvisesque Laertes (although Elvis parodies always suggest to me that some one should have tried harder to come up with a fresh idea). McKettrick shone as a surprisingly athletic Juliet, a curiously fey Claudius, and actually, in a variety of increasingly hilarious wigs and frocks, McKettrick took on almost all of the female characters with great grace. By the luck of the script McPhee (who rounds out the cast of this year’s Summertime Revue) , didn’t get the variety of characters that his castmates had. He did score the plummy role of Hamlet though, who in McPhee’s comic hands, had obviously missed his last couple of lithium treatments. Together, this trio out-stooged Larry, Moe and Curly, and scored higher comedic marks than Groucho, Chico and Harpo. (Hey, that would make someone a nice blurb.)
Not only was the Compleat Works, etc. the closing production of the UCCB Dramagroup’s 25th Annual Season Of Plays, it was also the final production of director Harry Boardmore before he retires from the University’s teaching staff. As usual, Harry did a bang-up job. He kept the action going at a Keystone Kop frenzy, and using only three actors and a dizzying array of costumes and props, he filled the stage with non-stop action and sight gags galore. Theatre-goers are going to miss their little “touch of Harry in the night”.
. . . hmm, I still have some space left.
Maybe this is my chance to rant about some of the less than stellar moments during the week of one-act plays that I didn’t have room for the last time. Nothing to do with the plays, but with the audience. Late-comers — in this case, not just five minutes late, but half an hour late for a forty-five minute play. There was also an increasing number of folks providing colour commentary to their companions on the play in progress, mistaking a public auditorium for their TV room at home. As well, a steady stream of people wandered in and out of the Playhouse on missions unknown while the neglected actors were struggling on stage. In a ninety minute play, this behaviour might be understandable . . . in a thirty minute play, it is inexcusable. And just as I was beginning to tolerate those damned beeping digital watches, along comes Mr. Cellphone. Yes, someone actually got a call and then made another call on their cell phone while a play was going on. It seems rather quaint to criticize theatre-goers for being rude, thoughtless and disrespectful, but isn’t it in the Charter Of Rights that we’re entitled to behave like self-centered boors. To suggest otherwise is fascism.
On a happier note, Planet Poverty was performed at the Holy Angels High School Auditorium on Sunday, Apr. 14. It was a co-production of the Filipino theatre Peta of Manila and the Parminou theatre of Quebec, and was performed in three languages. It was a funny, touching, and thought-provoking play about leaving your home for what you hope is a better life, but always finding poverty dogging your steps. Everything about it – the writing, the acting and the direction – was top-notch. It would be a real treat to have more theatre groups like this visit our area.