Trio gives the Bard the once-over, lightly

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If you want to get folks fired up about Renaissance theater, poking fun at William Shakespeare is one way to do it.

The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company is doing that now with the second half of its ninth summer season, the parody "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)," written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Borgeson.

The Bard, to be sure, did not pen the abridged "Complete Works." Former founding members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company wrote and performed this script for the first time at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1987. It then ran for nine years at the Criterion Theatre in London.

Set in the present and directed at the Patuxent Female Institute Historic Park by Scott Alan Small, the material more resembles vigorous stand-up comedy than it does classic theater.

The first act runs at a breakneck speed through 36 spoofs of everything from "Romeo and Juliet" and "Titus Andronicus" to "Othello" and "Macbeth." All of the romantic comedies are condensed in one section, which isn't really cheating since they all use much the same plot devices. The histories are tied together, especially "Julius Caesar" and "Antony and Cleopatra," in silly, reinvented scenarios.

Act two is devoted entirely to "Hamlet."

Small calls upon three very funny company members to play themselves. Scott Graham, John Thomas Miller and Frank B. Moorman pull out all stops to compress 37 long plays into a single, wacky sitting.

The actors are given so much artistic license that each has the potential to go into freefall. But the three men's extensive stage experience keeps the humor airborne.

Graham appears first to open the show, then introduces Miller and Moorman, who also speak directly to the audience.

Miller evokes skeptical laughter midway through a recitation of Shakespeare's biography when an index card mishap suddenly finds him lecturing on the life ofAdolf Hitler.

Moorman laments a general ignorance of Shakespeare in the modern world and builds to a shout: "Imagine a world where manly men wear pink tights with pride!"

For the record here — Juliet becomes the first Shakespearean heroine to "vomit" Silly String out at the audience. Before, during and in between such sight gags, the actors' written and improvised repartee often flies as high as the wayward bat that circled overhead in the outdoors setting.

When Graham describes "Hamlet" as the play where the prince feels guilty because his uncle murdered his father, Miller explodes, "Dude, that's 'The Lion King'!"

Shakespeare lovers will appreciate some of the goofing more than others. But even those who are generally cool to the Bard's gifts should enjoy the play's lively references to politics and pop culture.

There are many surprises to be savored along the way. "Hamlet," for instance, offers a playful staging of the famed play-within-the-play, and elsewhere asks the entire audience to join in for the portrayal of Ophelia.

Only one of Shakespeare's 38 plays is spared. At the end of act one, Miller objects that "Coriolanus" is just too vulgar for his sensibilities and, after an argument, is chased off by Moorman.

That leaves Graham alone to hold the stage for the rest of act one and the beginning of act two. He does a credible job, and cannot be blamed for the faltering pace.

At times the script may get a bit confusing to a general audience. Graham's references to an actor's subtext and inner monologue, for instance, seem more aimed toward actors than for casual playgoers.

The costume designs of Kristina Lambdin and Marilyn Johnson fit the show nicely. The three actors take many turns frenetically swapping male and female roles, and quickly adapting to their cheesy wigs and ill-tailored costumes adds to the air of general tomfoolery.

The stone ruins of the park provide a more personal audience experience than usual. Without the fourth wall, which is quickly demolished by the performers, a cross-dressing thespian might well land in an audience member's lap at any given moment.

Patrons could easily think they've stumbled into an impromptu campfire episode of an Elizabethan "Saturday Night Live."

"The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)" continues on Thursday and Friday nights at 8 p.m. until July 22; with one Sunday show on July 17 at 6 p.m. Tickets are $15-$36. Children and active military are free. For information, call 410-313-8661 or go to http://www.chesapeakeshakespeare.com.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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