Talkin' BroadwayV.J.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
by Nancy Rosati

In honor of William Shakespeare's upcoming birthday on April 23rd, I took a trip to Union Square and saw ALL of his works on stage - every single one of them, in 99 minutes, in an Off Broadway show called The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).

Written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield, founders of The Reduced Shakespeare Company, the show is a zany approach to works that are usually presented with more respect and reverence. According to director Jeremy Dobrish, it appeals to "two kinds of people - people who like Shakespeare and people who don't like Shakespeare. If you like Shakespeare, it's so much fun to see all of the different shows presented in different ways, some more comprehensively produced than others of course. The guys who wrote it obviously love Shakespeare. It's them saying, ‘These shows are great. Maybe they're a little hard for us to follow, but they're fun and they have great things in them. Let's just enjoy that.'

"If you don't like Shakespeare, then it's fun to see it in a way that you really can grasp on to very easily. We've had a few people tell us they were hesitant to see it because they don't really like Shakespeare and they thought it was going to be six hours long and really boring. Instead it was so fast, and they had such a great time. This is not long, ponderous Shakespeare, - this is fun, quick-witted Shakespeare."

One way they break from traditional Shakespeare is the use of the audience. "There's really no fourth wall. The guys definitely are aware that there's an audience. They talk to them, play with them and at certain points they come down off the stage and go right into the audience. It's not the kind of audience participation that's off-putting. Nobody has to do anything uncomfortable. It's all in the spirit of fun."

Putting together a show like this is quite a challenge. There are three cast members, currently Mark Fish, Michael Goldstrom, and David Turner, and they are covered by three understudies. Jeremy looks for cast members "who can handle Shakespeare's language, but who are very gifted comedians and who can be funny in a variety of ways. There's smart humor, there's very base humor, there's physical humor, there's dance, there's sword-fighting, and there's a little bit of singing. It's a workout for these guys. They have a lot of costume changes. They come off stage sweating and tired. You have to have three guys who can really handle it and we've been very lucky in that regard. We've had very talented people in the cast."

Productions of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) are running in London and in companies all over the world, from regional theaters to community groups. The Off Broadway version opened October 15, 2001 to enthusiastic audiences and to positive reviews. They recently played their 200th performance, and claim to be "slowly gaining on the London production" which has played over 2000 performances. Judging from the audience response when I was there, it may not be a far-fetched goal.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
The Century Center for the Performing Arts
111 E. 15th Street
(near Union Square Park)

Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at 8 PM
Wednesdays at 2 PM
Saturdays at 2, 5 and 8 PM, and Sundays at 4 PM

Ticket prices, including a student rush, range from $29 to $59.

Tickets can be purchased through TeleCharge at (212) 239-6200 or online at Telecharge.com.

For more information, visit www.shakespeareabridged.com.

- Nancy Rosati

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