Playgoers old enough to remember the two previous productions of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) at the Boardmore Playhouse (like me) will be delighted to know the playwrights, Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield, have updated their script to include rap songs, jokes about Googling information, and added dollops of audience participation.
The audience participation certainly went over well at the morning performance I attended with a couple of hundred local high school students who, after a shaky start and with the irresistible prompting of cast member Aaron Corbett, enthusiastically joined in a physical and vocal demonstration of the many Freudian “layers” of the character of Ophelia. Smaller evening audiences were apparently more reserved.
The play began live as a fringe theatre project over two decades ago and still retains its audience tested “let’s throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” approach. Its conceit is that it covers all three dozen of the Bard’s works in just under an hour and a half (which might even be too Tolstoian in length in our age of internet viral videos). Even with this jam-packed presentation, some plays get a lengthier look (Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet), and some, like The Tempest and King Lear, get passing mention in bits that lump all of the comedies in one cross-dressing farce, and all of the history plays in a mock “pass the crown” football game.
Mike McPhee was a cast-member in an earlier production that Harry Boardmore directed and he chose three theatrical comrades, Corbett, Lindsay Thompson, and Wayne McKay, for his cast. It was a smart move as all three are strong performers and with a highly individual acting style: Corbett is physically fearless and can give the tamest line a sly twist, Thompson has a chameleon ability to instantly adopt any character, and McKay equals with his cast-mates in comedic timing and has a natural earnestness that makes him the default straight man.
McPhee used them to the best of their abilities with a fast pace and almost manic physical comedy bits. He also provided a set that incorporated slide projections, a bewildering array of props, and some of the boxes that would have been used in the Boardmore’s two previous productions.
Assisting McPhee and his cast were Rod Nichols, as an assistant director and show runner of sorts, and the rubber-faced Phonse Walsh as the highly efficient and often funny onstage prop and costume wrangler (he added some subtle reactions without stealing focus from the main action).
This play is part of a “Shakespeare season” at the Boardmore which includes Scott Sharplin’s production of Hamlet in January and Todd Hiscock’s production of a stage adaptation of Leon Rooke’s comedic novel, Shakespeare’s Dog, in February.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) has three more performances: Friday and Saturday, November 27 and 28, at 7 pm, and Sunday, November 29, 2 pm, all in the Boardmore Playhouse on the Cape Breton University Campus. While it is not a holiday themed play, you will leave the Boardmore filled with glee.