Shakes on 45
Seven Ages of Man
Sometimes Willie doesn’t get the respect he deserves. Oh sure, Mr. Shakespeare is referred to as the greatest playwright of all time, the king of the English language, the prince of the soliloquy, yadda, yadda, yadda.
But the Bard also suffers from a strange duality—his works are so well-known that we don’t really listen to his wonderful words anymore, and his dense Elizabethan English is so off-putting to others that they never give him a chance.
So, how do you make Shakespeare’s language fresh, fun and accessible to a wide audience?
Well, Sacramento Theatre Company’s artistic director, Peggy Shannon, simply repackages the guy’s best-known works in a “greatest-hits compilation” under the title of Seven Ages of Man. Similar to the Reduced Shakespeare touring group, Shannon and co-compiler/actress Julie Grant have grabbed a selection of scenes, sonnets and soliloquies, mixed them up and served them as snippets, snappy repartees, silly scenes and solemn moments.
The idea is to portray the stages of a typical life—infancy, adolescence, passionate love, war, justice, the comedy of aging and death—through Shakespeare’s words, scenes and speeches. It’s not difficult, considering his vast collection of works covers nearly every basic human emotion; the hardship is figuring out from which plays and sonnets to lift.
Grant, along with two other talented actors, Matt K. Miller and Michael W. Stevenson, zips through costumes, scenes, characters and gender changes with great enthusiasm. The trio flip-flops from the romance of Romeo and Juliet to a madcap three-minute Three Stooges compilation of Shakespeare’s death scenes, titled “Death, Destruction and Demise.”
The comedy scenes work the best. Shakespeare was never meant to be stuffy, and this production showcases his humor while poking fun of the pretentiousness that many people associate with bad Shakespeare productions. It works on many levels and really does give some fresh air to old standbys, especially in the fast-foot teamwork of Miller and Stevenson.
But there’s a problem with mixing it up too much. First, when an actor smirks his way through a scene one minute, it’s hard to expect the audience to accept him as a heavy in the next. And, though you can steal a funny moment out of context, serious moments have deeper meanings that need the support of plot and characterization. We gain the words but lose the meaning. In the end, it’s light fare, an appetizer without the full meal, leaving you hungry for more.