Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)
Same director, same actors, (Ryan Jason Cook, Daniel T. Cornish, and Caleb D. Ramsell), different result. Gone was the heedless hyperactivity that so endeared us to the players. Instead, we are met with a loquacious, self-indulgent threesome who, rather than entertaining us, seem more intent upon amusing themselves, breaking through the fourth wall so often as to seem somewhat like a middle school production.
The first act is somewhat erratic, the onstage energy coming to us in fitful bursts, as the 36 of the 37 plays promised lurch toward intermission. I was not sure what was going on, but I hoped whatever it was is now remedied. Why director Cook thought it a good idea to erase some of the wittiest and most hilarious scenes, I may never understand. This Romeo and Juliet are mundane (though I did like the floral draped swing which descends from the ceiling), the entire balcony scene, a 2019 marvel of comedic timing and execution, gone. The King John episode–so riotous in 2019–has become a long, drawn-out installment, missing the target.
There are indications sprinkled throughout referencing recent events, the Amber Heard/soiled pillow allusion seemingly unnoticed or perhaps ignored by many. My companion who, being in his thirties, may possess a more youthful mindset than my own, made a pointed and very valid observation saying he thought "the Othello part was pretty racist. Some would consider putting on sideways hats and rapping as a modern-day black face. All the 'eww, boy kissing boy' and 'haha, there's a guy in a dress' stuff seems so old and played out."
After intermission, the audience, a mixture of generations with more than a few youngsters and children at the performance I attended, are presented with Act II, purported to be dedicated solely to Hamlet. What follows is an unfathomable combination of a European holiday "Panto" replete with bringing children onstage to entertain us with handstands and running to and fro, a young woman whose sole purpose is to scream on command, and an overly long scenario where the supposed boy wonder, played by Ramsell, who absconded at the end of Act I, has yet to be found so the show can continue.
In an effort to be fair, perhaps there was an issue with the actors that necessitated the only available actor, Ryan Jason Cook, to desperately attempt engaging the modest crowd for what seemed like an age, to buy enough time for whatever the situation was, to resolve itself. Because otherwise, this long delay in bringing Act II to life proper was a poor decision layered upon a series of other poor choices, not least of which is the absence of Ophelia's hysterically funny death by drowning.
Perhaps this is an overly harsh review of a show which, without my prior experience of the earlier production, I would have discounted as mediocre and left it at that. Perhaps it is unfair to compare it with an earlier version of itself, and I should review it on its own merits, and not on the memories of the original and by far superior 2019 edition. But I did see and so enjoy the same talented and spirited trio at the Vortex a few years ago, so have difficulty reconciling it with what I recently saw.
Paradoxically, I'm not saying it is dreadful and recommending you avoid it. It's not that bad, it's just not great. Maybe unknown opening night behind-the-scenes disasters contributed to what I experienced, and all is now as it should be. I hope so.
A nice, cleverly designed set by Nick Fleming is complemented by props a la Nina Dorrance. Costume design by Carolyn Hogan is flawless as always. Skilled lighting and sound design by Zach Plohr and Lando Ruiz, respectively, round out the faultless technical abilities we have come to expect from the diverse technical team at Albuquerque Little Theatre.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) runs through September 11, 2022, at Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale SW, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. Additional performances Saturday, September 3 at 2 p.m., Thursday, September 8 at 7:30 p.m., Tickets: Adults $25, seniors (65+) $23, students (13 - University) $21, and children (12 and under) $17. For tickets and information, please call 505-242-4750 x 2 or visit albuquerquelittletheatre.org.