Theatre review: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare – payback for a sometimes bombastic Willy

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) covers a lot of ground, with 37 of the Bard’s plays performed in this single piece.  But before you run screaming at the very thought of what could be a days-long marathon of codpieces and farthingales, this version is actually condensed into a fun romp of just under two hours.

Robin Jung, Sean Parsons and Davie Ortynsky in The Complete Works of William ShakespeareNothing escapes the knives, sometimes quite literally, of writers Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield who take great joy hashing out great chunks of Shakespeare’s work and mining for its comedic gold.  From the opening Romeo & Juliet in less than 17 minutes, to the entire history cycle in a breathless two, this irreverent comedy takes the piss out of just about everything the Bard ever put quill to paper.

Not content though to simply rely on Shakespeare, the writers, along with director David C Jones, throw in a kitchen sink of modern references and then proceeds to wash it all in that sink with a big gob of bathos.  Othello gets his rap, Titus Andronicus a cooking show and even Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets manage to get a laugh as they are reduced to a single postcard.

The glue to all this Shakespearean mayhem is the three supposed experts who, perhaps not surprisingly, get their character names from the writers.  Played by Robin Jung, Dave Ortynsky and Sean Parsons, the three riff off each other, discuss and argue the merits of certain plays or how they should be presented, and generally help set us up for next bit.  And therein lays the real difficulty of this show: balancing that overwhelming desire to simply go wild with the absurdity of this condensed Shakespeare and actually provide the glue.  Fortunately the three are mostly up for that challenge.

Jung, Ortynsky and Parsons have great chemistry and it is infectious.  When it comes time for the audience to be part of the action, we are so on their side that there is little hesitation as we are called up onto help in a psychological deconstruction of Hamlet’s id, ego, and superego.  Ortynsky, who arguably has the best role playing the majority of female characters, makes the most of that opportunity.  There were some moments of brilliance from Parsons, especially as the expert, and Jung works hard as the straight man, although when he is left on his own at the end of act one, it fizzles out like a candle losing oxygen.

Director Jones keeps things moving at a brisk pace, but at times his decision to use an alley theatre set-up actually works against the actors, including Othello’s rap which is all but lost and a few instances where we were at a tennis match watching the action unfold on both ends.  In an effort to match the insanity of 37 plays in 97 minutes it seemed at times Jones forgot to remind his actors that even the quickest of pauses (is that an oxymoron?) can reap great dividends.

There is enough laugh-out-loud fun in this show to completely forget that we gain little insight into Shakespeare and his plays.  But that’s okay; consider this payback for a sometimes bombastic Willy.

3 1/2 of 5 Stars The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) (revised)

By Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield.  Directed by David C Jones.  On stage at the Jericho Arts Centre through July 30, 2011.  Visit http://www.jerichoartscentre.com for tickets and information.

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