Shakespeare on speed

Brüka Theatre’s fast-paced The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is a hilarious round-up of the Bard’s plays

Rated 5.0

High speed hilarity. Not for people with weak hearts or English degrees!"My husband and I, belonging to the latter category, were alarmed by this warning, which was printed on the program for Brüka’s The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). We had imagined ourselves as the ideal audience for a comedy of rapid-fire Shakespeare references. Were we mistaken?

We had nothing to worry about. Halfway through the prologue, my only complaint was that Sam laughed so hard he started choking, causing me to miss a joke or two.

Still, I understand the message (the subtext, if you will) of the “no English degrees” statement. It is worth clarifying that The Complete Works is not one of those hoity-toity literary comedies filled with inside jokes for the well-read, and excruciating boredom for the rest of the audience. Rather, it is outrageous, rolling-in-the-aisles-with-laughter fun, and despite its subject matter, one of the most unpretentious plays I have ever seen.

Shakespeare fans familiar with obscure plays like Titus Andronicus or Troilus and Cressida might get an extra chuckle or two, but the heart and soul of this play is high-energy witty banter and slapstick fun that assumes a knowledge of Shakespeare easily pieced together from TV commercials and residual memories of high school English.

And for those who somehow made it to adulthood without ever figuring out the premise of Romeo and Juliet, there is plenty of physical comedy to keep the laughter coming.

The three actors, Scott Beers, Tom DeWester and Scott Dundas, are a delight to watch. Their self-referential jokes and rapport with the audience make it difficult to tell where the script ends and the cleverly crafted improv begins.

The actors’ comic timing is impeccable, and their energy is contagious. They are not afraid to look foolish, to dress in ridiculous costumes, speak in silly accents and corral random people from the audience into their fun.

The intimate, couch-filled Brüka Theatre makes the perfect venue for this show, which includes a large amount of audience participation. Individuals get zinged or pulled onstage for bit parts, and an extended “workshop” invites the whole audience to apply Freudian analysis to the character of Ophelia, resulting in riotous fun for those not afraid to yell in a theater.

I feel it would be a disservice to potential viewers to disclose just how three actors manage to cover 30-odd Shakespearean plays, plus some sonnets, in just over two hours. Suffice it to say, they whiz through the more obscure ones and spend a greater amount of time on cultural mainstays like Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and Hamlet. There are plenty of quick costume changes, skipped soliloquies and creative shortcuts. Brüka’s take on Othello is especially clever and memorable.

There might be stuffy scholars somewhere who would not enjoy this show, which turns esteemed tragedies into farce and is laden with intentional inaccuracies—remember when Shakespeare invaded Poland? However, this play is not just another adaptation of Shakespeare, like those wretched versions of Macbeth involving motorcycle gangs or a Midsummer Night’s Dream on bicycles. Rather, it is an original and hilarious comedy that happens to use the Bard as its inspiration. Much like Saturday Night Live at one of its high points, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is lively, guilt-free satire at its best.