Bard on 45
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
Brush up your Shakespeare, because Bill Voorhees and Remo Gilbert are at it again.
The two local actors have revived their popular three-man show The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)—this time with new partner Ryan Williams—over at the Thistle Dew Dessert Theatre. It’s the third time around for Voorhees and Gilbert, the first for Williams. Director Ed Gyles Jr., who did the first local Voorhees/Gilbert production, also checked in for a touch-up.
The aim of the show—ostensibly—is to cover every play written by you-know-who (plus the sonnets, for good measure) in a single night.
Well, maybe just the “good parts,” or (more honestly) the better targets for satire, with a particular emphasis on the tragedies. Hamlet comes in for the most extended treatment, taking up the whole second half of the show. The send-up includes hilarious multiple casting (with the three actors taking numerous parts, amid bad wigs, and cross-gender costumes exposing lots of chest hair) amplified by an increasingly telescoped plotline that results in a boiled-down version lasting about as long as a TV commercial. Othello comes in for the rap treatment. Macbeth is devastated by outlandish Scottish accents and peeks-below-the-kilt out of Monty Python. King Lear gets off comparatively light.
In each case, it’s the swordplay and death scenes that absorb most of the comic fury. But the humor goes all over the map, from informed/literary to gutter-level sophomoric and flat-out homophobic, with frequent lapses into camp and bathos. I laughed often, with twinges of guilt. There is a great deal of bad hair and overdone death agony.
The “odd” plays come in as well, if only for the dwindling band of Shakespeare completists. (“Guilty, your Honor.”) There is a particularly funny episode sucked from Titus Andronicus—a play that stands amid Shakespeare in the way that Texas Chainsaw Massacre stands in the cinema: a total gross-out. Titus, which periodically pops up of numerical necessity at summer Shakespeare festivals, involves lopped-off limbs, knifed-out tongues and accidental parent-child cannibalism (plus a villain second only to Iago). By available reports, Shakespeare made decent money on the play during his time. (Forget about the pedestal; Shakespeare had a quota, and wrote on deadline, had a family, and compromised, like the rest of us. He just wrote better, like an angel. And the rest of us are still looking up, a few hundred years later.)
This production at the Thistle Dew lampoons Titus as a perky TV cooking show, with a handless, tongue-less onstage helper (ouch), and candy “lady fingers” stuck into the gruesome main dish. Titus is a script that few people read locally, and fewer still have seen—but this spoof is clearly informed by some knowledge of the play. Gilbert reportedly took part in a high-school production some years back, under the direction of Doniel Soto (who now teaches at CSUS and guides a group of actors/dancers at “The Space” in Midtown Sacramento. (Few high schools nowadays would willingly stage Titus, given its content.)
The history plays take a glancing blow—we American moderns never could keep those Old English nobles straight. Crowns are tossed like footballs in a bowl game.
And Shakespeare’s comedies (kit and caboodle) are boiled down into a single, short routine, bereft of characterization. It’s more of a junkpile of plot attributions—actually an undeclared but tacit acknowledgement on the part of the playwrights that they couldn’t come up with something better.
It is a high-energy effort for the three performers, who do a considerable amount of physical work onstage. In general, Voorhees plays the doofus, Gilbert plays the Bard (or Hamlet) and Williams plays the field.
The script was written some years back by the now-infamous Reduced Shakespeare Company, which rode to fame on the show, and subsequently committed similarly cheerful desecrations on the Bible and American history, with touring productions that have stopped at UC Davis and elsewhere. (The Reduced Shakespeare Company uses the initials RSC, but is not to be confused with the traditional standard-bearer of the canon, the Royal Shakespeare Company).