Ziegfeld Theatre’s THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED) was a thorough delight!
As you are seated, you’re greeted by this fine fellow, projected on the background curtain:
That the play to follow is an irreverent farce should come as no surprise. First performed in 1987 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, THE COMPLETE WORKS soon moved to London and became the longest running show at the Criterion Theater. It’s one of the most popular plays in the world, and with good reason.
The three man show not only depicts many of Shakespeare’s most famous plays and most iconic characters, but does so by breaking down the ‘fourth wall’–they often speak directly to the audience (even involving them in the action, as I personally experienced when I didn’t respond vigorously enough to a request of the audience), and improvisation which includes pop culture references is common. Ziegfeld’s actors were wonderful! Trent Cox had a gravity amidst the silliness (scenes are largely played with broad comic strokes, worthy of Python at it’s best) that marked him as an actor to watch. Marc Nielson, player of many of Shakespeare’s women, was hilarious–his comic timing was spot on. Knowing how much craft it takes to deliver good comedy, it shouldn’t have been surprising when he delivered a soliloquy from Hamlet with strength and beauty, but he left the audience speechless. And Kelland Davis was at the top of his game as Hamlet and especially during Titus Andronicus’ cooking show (don’t ask–you just have to see it to believe it).
Though the players work within the theatrical conceit that they really don’t know their Shakespeare, it’s clear through the farce that these guys are sharp. They give the audience a pretty darn good, clear-eyed, non gushy overview of the plays through comedy, informational asides, puppet shows, and rap songs (again, you just have to see it) You don’t have to be a Shakespeare scholar yourself to enjoy the show; anyone can enjoy this play, and probably learn a thing or two about Shakespeare in the process.
If you’re sensitive to bawdy humor…well, you shouldn’t see any Shakespeare, frankly. The guy was NAUGHTY. Still, THE COMPLETE WORKS does update those references for a modern audience, and these players add more than a touch of their own bawd. I found it hilarious, but the father of the two younger children in the audience looked a bit uncomfortable. This is a fairly heavy audience participation show, as well, so be prepared to be a part of the show if you’re sitting near the front. If you’re in that area, also be prepared to wince a bit–the actors get a bit shrill at times. Perhaps Ziegfeld might want to evaluate that, because there were lines I couldn’t hear strictly because two actors wee screeching at each other at top volume at once.
All in all, be prepared to laugh when you be come part of the “oozing carbuncle of knowledge” that is THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED). The actors are bright and entertaining, the set is minimal but fun, and the show is energetic. Enjoy an evening out, have a lot of laughs, and “May The Bard Be With You.” http://www.theziegfeldtheater.com/