When one thinks of Shakespeare, “funny” probably isn’t the first word that comes to mind. Likely, neither is “short.” But that’s the treatment the Bard’s work is getting in “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” that debuted at Valhalla’s Boathouse Theatre Friday.
“If you don’t know anything about Shakespeare, it’s fine. It’s still really funny,” said Steve Hamilton, the play’s director. “If you do, it’s even funnier.”
The 97-minute play runs through all of Shakespeare’s 37 works. Cast with only three actors, the goofy performance turns tragedy into comedy.
“I’ve told other people that I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as much as we have in rehearsals,” said Stephanie Grigsby, one of the play’s performers.
From Romeo and Juliet to Titus Andronicus, the actors rip through the English poet’s catalog, breezing through scenes, haranguing the famous characters and improvising with the audience.
“There are elements of the show that are actually improvisational,” Hamilton said. “They pull people from the audience to do different things throughout the play.”
That makes the performance different and exciting each night, he added.
The comedy opens with the actors introducing themselves. They then whirl into Shakespeare’s famous hits, parodying the dramas in different ways, from a cooking show to rap songs and pop culture references. The work is hardly intended as a serious take on Shakespeare’s work, but viewers still may manage to learn a thing or two, Grigsby said.
““I really enjoy doing the complete works,” she said. “There’s a ton of Shakespeare plays and I don’t think I knew of all of them before we started rehearsing for the show.”
“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare” was written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, and first performed in 1987. The play ran for nine years at the Criterion Theatre in London. It received wildly positive reviews from the New York Times, The Guardian and The Times of London. The Reduced Shakespeare Co. continues to run tours of the play.
The last time “The Complete Works” was performed in the area was at Sand Harbor in 2010.
The cast includes Grigsby, Brett Robinson and April Foiles. Partially because of the small cast, the play is particularly well suited to small venues, Hamilton said.
“It’s a good Boathouse show because it’s just three actors,” he said. “It works well on a small stage in an intimate setting.”
The play is the first in the Valhalla Art, Music & Theatre Festival’s theater series. The festival will also host “Motherhood Out Loud” and “Better Late …” later this summer as well as a variety of music and arts events. For more information, including a schedule of events, visit valhallatahoe.com