Romeo and Hamlet in a Midsummer Night’s Dream? Wherefore art thou Othello?
Congruity can be comfortable, but incongruity can be light-hearted and funny.
The College’s Philaletheis Society takes just that to heart. Collaging 37 of Shakespeare’s plays in less than two hours, the Society presents “The Complete Works of Shakespeare: Abridged.” As its title suggests, the performance is, in every sense of the word, abridged. In midst of the medley, the performance brims with comedic value and pure fun.
Discussing the premise of the event, stage manager Shai Karp ’18 wrote, “The premise of the play is condensing all of Shakespeare’s body of work into a short play. We do 37 plays in just over 90 minutes and there’s a lot of humor and it’s a lot of fun. The whole idea is a little ridiculous (to cover so much in so little time), it ends up being pretty hilarious to watch the three actors play all these Shakespearean roles in creative and inventive ways.”
Those with or without an affinity to Shakespeare’s works are welcomed. Actor Colby Byrne ’18 wrote, “The play is a comedy about three actors (who are basically playing themselves) attempting to accomplish the overwhelming task of condensing all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays into a more reasonable hour and 45 minutes or so. It’s full of jokes that people who are more familiar with Shakespeare would get a big kick out of, but knowing Shakespeare very well is in no way essential to appreciating the production. It’s fun for all.”
In fact, the event inadvertently ousts the presumptive esotericism of Shakespearean studies. The play’s director, Tonya Ingerson ’18, wrote, “As a member of Shakespeare Troupe, which performs in the spring, I’m obviously an admirer of his plays—but I understand that it’s not easy for most people to grasp it. ‘Complete Works’ does a great job of making the stories more accessible, and also reminds us that while the language of Shakespeare’s plays are quite stunning, it’s easier than people often think to reduce these fancy characters and verses to simple, enjoyable and fun theatre.”
The process seems as amusing as the concept of the play. Karp wrote, “The process has been a lot of fun. We’ve had some serious talks about content (Shakespeare can get pretty violent and the 1500s were not particularly progressive on issues like gender or race), but we’re also able to just have fun with the text and mess around in this play.”
Working through these harsh themes has been difficult, at times, for the cast. The vehicle of dialogue has proven to be an optimal measure to overcome problematic nuances. Ingerson wrote, “The one thing that has been a little challenging though is that quite a few spots in the original script are quite problematic. Many words, slurs and ideas were used in the text that we as a team did not feel comfortable presenting on this campus or anywhere else for that matter.”
She continued, “These all opened up a lot of opportunities for dialogue as a cast, asking ourselves why these things were or were not perceived as funny, what the audience’s potential reaction would be, who would feel marginalized if we kept it in the show, whether the show would change without it and most importantly what we could do to take out the possibility of someone no longer feeling safe or that they were having fun at our show.”
Getting to this point hasn’t been easy–the production process has been demanding. Byrne wrote, “This rehearsal process has been going on since September, and began with us blocking the show and updating and revising a lot of its content so that the audience may have a fuller appreciation (something the original playwrights insisted on). Before going into tech week, we’re focusing on running the show, cleaning up scenes, and rehearsing with costume changes and props as this is a very prop/costume heavy show.”
The cast’s enthusiasm has kept them going through the more grueling aspects of show preparations. Ingerson wrote, “The process has been quite a blast. The actors are phenomenal and not afraid of being laughed at. One really convenient aspect of this show is that the whole thing is based on an air of unprofessionalism and ‘what the hell are you/am I doing?!’ Nothing has to be perfect, streamlined, whatever: it just has to be fun to watch.”
Cast and crew members hope audience members enjoy the play as much as they have enjoyed putting it on. Karp wrote, “A lot of what I have to say about the play really comes back to fun as our primary concept. It’s a really fun play and we’ve had a ton of fun making it and I really want [the] audience to just have a lot of fun seeing it. It’s really funny and entertaining and I think it’s great to just see a really funny play.”
Ingerson anticipates a great turnout and captivated spectators. But more importantly, Ingerson simply hopes to put a smile on audience members’ faces via “The Complete Works of Shakespeare: Abridged.” Ingerson wrote, “We wanted to give people a show where they could just come to laugh about the material and at the actors with no hard feelings. The great thing about this particular show though is that while it’s nonstop fun, it also does have a bit of educational merit…”
She continued, “I want people to maybe learn a little bit more about some of Shakespeare’s plays and get excited about them–and why so many theatre-makers out there get excited about them (lookin’ at you, Shakespeare Troupe!). But even if that doesn’t happen, I just want audience members to have fun and enjoy themselves. I hope people know that basically the sole reason Julianne [Johnson ‘16], Jonah and Colby are on that stage is to entertain every butt in those seats. Laugh at them all you want! They’ll loooove it!”