Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)
Starting with a highly bastardized, but very funny, biography of the Bard, cobbled together from a misdirected Google search, the play includes varied condensed versions of his plays that parody, poke, and prod at the absurdity of Shakespeare's works. From delivering Othello as a white man's rap song, since the three white actors in the cast feel it isn't PC for any of them to play the African-American main character (or is that African-Italian, since the play is set in Venice?), to turning all of Shakespeare's history plays that focus on the many Kings in Europe into a Battle of the Kings football game, the fast and fun show is contemporary and relevant, full of improvisation, bawdy jokes, and references to pop culture. While not every moment works, with a few that barely get a chuckle, some highlights include taking the numerous repetitive situations and themes that Shakespeare used in many of his plays, including the use of twins, shipwrecks, and drag, to condense all sixteen of his comedies into one play, delivered as a radio melodrama. Also, turning Hamlet into an Evelyn Wood speed-version of the classic tragedy that runs just over 40 seconds is humorous, even more so when they decide to deliver it backwards. A few references to "Game of Thrones" adds a current spin to the production, while getting the entire audience involved to represent Ophelia's ego, id, and superego brings an inspired lunacy to the whole affair.
The cast of Desert Foothills Theater's production includes Bradley Beamon, Ari DeVriend, and Ryan Wentzel, and all three are skilled in the improvisation elements that are required, with the fourth wall completely nonexistent. Beamon uses numerous funny voices to portray the many characters he plays, with great results, while Wentzel manages to achieve a funny yet smart delivery of his many roles. Ari DeVriend is a joy, from her propensity to have all of her downtrodden and dying characters end up mock vomiting on the front row of audience members to a stunning, dramatic, delivery of Hamlet's "What a piece of work is a man!" monologue, she brings plenty of spunk and sensitivity to the show.
Director Eric Schoen keeps the production moving along at a brisk pace, though the beginning falters just a bit, as do some of the quicker line deliveries that get lost, even in the small space. Creative elements are simple but smart, with Michael Blaney's set bright, colorful, and functional and the combination of Isabella Ronda's costume, hair, and makeup designs and Wendy Claus' fun props adding plenty of laughs.
Charming and slightly bawdy, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) is a fun romp through the Bard's plays that a Shakespeare scholar or novice will enjoy, though if you know nothing about any of his plays you may be a bit lost at the many laughs coming from the audience. While not everything in the play works, DFT has a young, fun cast that turn their production into an inspired, witty, and delightful time.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) at Desert Foothills Theater runs through September 20th, 2015, at the Cactus Shadows Fine Art Center, 33606 N. 60th Street in Scottsdale. Tickets and information on this production and upcoming shows can be found at desertfoothillstheater.org or by calling 480 488-1981.
Directed by Eric Schoen