David Henderson, director for Theatre in the Park’s latest undertaking, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged, has spent the last few times as director working his way up to this play. He last directed for Theatre in the Park (TIP) with Charley’s Aunt, a case of mistaken identity to rival Shakespeare. And his direction prior to that outing included another in this “series,” The Complete History of America, Abridged. So Henderson has been doing his homework, so to speak, on attempting to present all of the Bard’s plays in two hours, and he opened the show at TIP this past weekend.
As with History of America, one goes into this show understanding that Will is going to take “a palpable hit” when it comes to presenting this work. Once we consider that Will’s plays take, even with substantial cutting, two hours per to produce, to put them all into one show means we’re going to laugh. To begin with, there is a scant trio of actors for the play. That means one leading man (Jesse R. Gephart, Hamlet), another leading man (Jason Daniel Sharp, Romeo and Juliet), and, unfortunately for Andy Hayworth, a leading lady (all). It seems that Hayworth was elected leading lady because, of the three, he is the only one with a beard.
So, the term "Abridged" is logical in the extreme. Consider Titus Andronicus presented as a cooking show, all of the comedies presented as if they were one five-act play, and all of the histories presented as a single football game! With such a degree of cutting going on, it is absolutely necessary that you pay very good attention, because if you don’t, you might miss an entire play as it whizzes by your head.
Our three chaps do their durndest to make us laugh, taking what is a very basic play (the cuts alone in this work require extreme skill) and adding to it that amount of ad-lib or local color to make this audience laugh out loud. References to RTP and to other theaters put us right at home. And the amount of work done requiring direct interaction with the audience keeps these three on their toes and us running to keep up.
So, given all these ingredients, what was missing in this brew that, included, would have made the show far funnier? We laughed quite a bit; often we laughed quite hard. But there was an element missing from the show opening night that seemed, in its absence, to keep the show on a lower note of hilarity that was the play’s due. It was not by any means energy, or slapstick, or schtick of any kind; there was all of that in spades. So why was there that feeling at the end of the show that what should have been a rollicking great time was, instead, simply a funny diversion?
I have to put it down to the art of the lampoon. Schtick and slapstick carry this show quite far. But if we are going to laugh with the trio onstage then there must be what I can only refer to as the art of comedy. The art of comedy is what makes a person laugh in spite of himself. Laugh so hard that it is impossible to pay complete attention because laugh lines and belly laughs are getting in the way. This is the kind of show I expected to see — that I wanted to see. It is not that this trio did not work extremely hard to make us laugh; they did. They did everything in their power and the sheer energy alone is enough to earn them accolades. But energy and shtick alone is vaudeville. I needed good, down-home, bone-wrenching laughter. And I didn’t get it. It may be that this is the very first time that these three were able to put the show in front of a live audience. That’s truly understandable. It is hoped that, the more often they are able to bounce this play off of a live audience, the better the play will get. I hope that to be true. But what I wanted opening night was knee-slapping comedy. And what I got was something a bit less.
The show continues through October 3. For details, see our calendar.