The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
This line from The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), itself a play off of Shakespeare's All's Well That Ends Well, may very well describe the feelings some of us have when it comes to experiencing a Shakespeare play. Sure, we all enjoy a good rendition of Romeo and Juliet, and we all know that Hamlet is a timeless classic, but it can still be difficult for the untrained ear to follow some of Shakespeare's complex language and convoluted plot structures. If you need a refresher, the Hub Theatre Company offers to cleanse your Shakespearean palette through satirical, condensed parodies and effectively goofy comedy. (Plus, all performances are "pay what you can" and there's a disco ball and a full bar in the performance space; what's not to like?)
There are just three actors: Patrick Curran, Brooks Reeves, and Adam Lauver (who performed opening weekend but will be replaced by William J. Moore for the rest of the run). Expect lots of punny dialogue and ridiculous props and costumes, which have an intentionally low-budget, homemade feel about them that lends some charm: For the performance of Julius Caesar the actors don togas made from unicorn and Spiderman bed sheets, for example. (One of my favorites is the "ghost on a string" gag in Hamlet, but I don't want to give too much away.) I'd heard a couple of the one-liners before, and some of the humor is a bit cheesy, but the show is aware of its cheesiness. Much of it is clever, like the combination of all of Shakespeare's histories into a chaotic football game in which the actors vie for a crown instead of a football. You may miss a few details if you're not brushed up on your Shakespeare, but the dialogue explains enough for everyone to get the jokes.
While the script is great and Lauren Elias' direction is skillful (directing three actors on a tiny stage through all of Shakespeare, even abridged, is no small feat), the actors, while sometimes breathless from the constant costume changes, spur the show and humor to life with somehow endless energy. Brooks Reeves' talent shines through the silliness; he has previously performed with Apollinaire Theatre Company (Stupid F#@king Bird, From White Plains), Brown Box Theatre Project (Two Wrongs), Bridge Rep (The Libertine), and other Boston area theaters. Reeves delivers monologues about "manly men in pink tights" and how the show is like "Shakespearean jihad" with the passion and precision that comes with being a seasoned performer. Patrick Curran makes his Hub debut here, and while he acts with vitality and commitment, his performance is not as versatile, although that could have been due to the luck of the draw in terms of which roles he plays. His previous Boston credits include Bouncers (Stickball Productions), A Streetcar Named Desire (Wax Wings Productions), and A Midsummer Night's Dream and Romeo and Juliet (Brown Box Theatre Project).
Adam Lauver was fantastic. I was sad to see that he will not be continuing for the next two weeks of performances. His recent performance credits include Mad Dash with Fresh Ink Theatre/Interim Writers and Sex Fest 2 with Heart & Dagger Productions, as well as a separate iteration of this show (with Amazing Mustache Productions), which doubtless led to his skill with the material. Most of Lauver's performance made him seem born for comedy, but I was pleasantly surprised to see his dramatic side when one of his monologues took a serious and captivating turn. This interesting moment in the play, when the character is swept away by the beauty and poignancy of Shakespeare's language, certainly stands out amidst the hijinks, and it actually illumines well the underlying telos of the show: not to mock Shakespeare, but to roast him. The show invites the audience to have a laugh at one of the greatest English playwrights while still keeping in mind that he was a great playwright.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, directed by Lauren Elias, presented by the Hub Theatre Company of Boston through August 2 at Club Café, 209 Columbus Ave, Boston. (All show patrons receive 20% off their total food purchase). Performances are Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 2:00pm. All tickets are "pay what you can" and may be purchased via www.hubtheatreboston.org.