The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)
Back in the 1970s, rock stars formed “supergroups,” bringing together several famous names to see what sparks would fly. For theater buffs, that concept represents much of the appeal behind Foothill Theatre Company’s The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged), a naughty, knowing, 90-minute satirical romp that unites three of the region’s top comic actors.
Representing the home team is Gary Alan Wright, Foothill’s favorite in-house funnyman. (He also does the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival each summer.) Then there’s Matt K. Miller, star of numerous shows at the Sacramento Theatre Company (most recently The Taming of the Shrew). Finally, we have Greg Alexander. For years, he’s been the go-to guy for kooky supporting roles at the B Street Theatre.
Now add director Carolyn Howarth, whose “Wild West” interpretation of Comedy of Errors triggered laughs last year. Put ’em together, and what have you got? A funny, frequently irreverent show that’s largely scripted but also partly improvised. (Last Sunday’s performance included one-liners about the Nevada City Bicycle Classic held that day.)
The basic frame is a purported one-session summary of Shakespeare, devised in the 1980s by three comics (Jess Winfield, Daniel Singer and Adam Long) passing themselves off as the Reduced Shakespeare Company. Much of the humor stems from bad wigs, silly voices and antic physical comedy. (Hey, the Bard wrote fart jokes, too).
Wrapped up in the fun is deft satire of the Shakespeare canon, though you don’t need to know Shakespeare to get it. The seldom-staged Titus Andronicus—an ultra-gory tragedy involving lopped-off limbs and cannibalism—becomes a ghoulish TV cooking show. Othello is lampooned with rap music. Macbeth becomes a kilt-crazed Scottish satire with mor-r-r-e r-r-r-olling r-r-r’s than imaginable (even funnier because Wright and Miller were in a real production of Macbeth last year).
If you attend the theater often—as a reviewer, I do—these routines may feel a bit shopworn. The Compleat Wrks has made the rounds in different incarnations for years, first on tour and then in professional and community theaters. But the trio of Alexander, Miller and Wright is sharp, and the actors bring considerable skill, personal zest and a sense of anarchic fun to the task. We’ll also venture that most readers haven’t encountered Compleat Wrks before. So, have at it and remember to leave your sacred cows at home.