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STAGE REVIEW : Troupe Packs Shakespeare Into a Wacky 2 Hours

During an interview last week, Daniel Singer of the Reduced Shakespeare Company wouldn’t tell just how the three-man troupe goes about compressing the complete works of the Bard of Avon into a 2-hour show.

He was steadfast: “The reason people come is to see how we do it. We might not have an audience if they knew beforehand.”

Well, it doesn’t take a Shakespearean scholar to realize that the first step has to be some pretty drastic editing. The real surprise, so apparent throughout the RSC’s performance at Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton on Saturday, came from seeing how the group managed to pull the whole thing off. The actors were delightfully ridiculous, as opposed to simply ridiculous for having made such an attempt.

Actually, the show’s title--"The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)"--is not completely accurate: The group left out all the sonnets. But never mind (who wanted to deal with those anyway?). Singer, Adam Long and Jess Borgeson actually do touch on all Shakespeare’s comedies, tragedies and historical plays.

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Touch on? More like slap around, goose, leap on, jump over, dismember.

Was anybody expecting good taste? Unlikely, but if anyone was, the Plummer was the wrong place to be on Saturday night. The RSC is a trio of Benny Hills in tights, of whoopee cushions with legs. The RSC is one giant stupid human trick. And once you get into the flow, it’s funny, very funny.

Just look what the troupe did to “Titus Andronicus.” Shakespeare’s bloody tale of betrayal and mayhem, featuring kids being served up to their parents for supper, was itself served up as a cooking show.

Borgeson, saddled with an askew Julia Child wig and trying hard to be dignified, counseled on how to make a really good “head pie.” Be sure to get a bowl that’s big enough to catch all the, uh, body fluids, he warned. Something with a 4-quart capacity will do nicely. No, comedy is not pretty.

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Speaking of comedy, all 14 of Shakespeare’s were combined into a ditty called “The Love Boat Goes to Verona.” As for the histories, they were condensed into a football game because, as was pointed out, they’re really just like football, just played with a crown instead of a ball. Running down the field on breakaway touchdowns, RSC’s kings stopped to guillotine wives and administer poisons.

The RSC mentioned “Othello” but declined to do it because “hey, we’re honkies!”

After intermission came “Hamlet.” And just as the play’s second half is arguably Shakespeare’s finest work, this was the RSC’s best, too, from Borgeson’s hilarious self-flagellation as Hamlet (he pulled out chest and beard hairs) to Long’s manic rompings as Ophelia.

The actors played a challenge round of “Hamlets,” doing the first in about 40 seconds and proceeding to shave about 35 seconds off. And then came the closer: a 60-second job done completely in reverse. As Shakespeare might have said, “You knuckleheads, get outta here!”


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