Performing Arts

Theatre Arlington presents breathless take on Shakespeare

William Kledas, Steven Morris, Joe Chapa in ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)’
William Kledas, Steven Morris, Joe Chapa in ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)’

Think of it as the theatrical equivalent of binge watching.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), a manic comedy at Theatre Arlington , pits a mere trio of actors against the mighty catalog of the Bard’s plays. With the help of only a few silly props and even sillier bits of costuming, they attempt to convey the essence of all the tragedies, histories and comedies.

Except in this romp, written by a committee comprising Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, all of the plays come out as comedies.

The players for whom all the world is a stage are Joe Chapa, William Kledas and Steven Morris. All are fine performers who work well together. Thanks to the breathless direction by Melanie Mason, they ably sustain the blazing pace of this intentional train wreck, which clocks in at less than 100 minutes.

The piece abounds with physical comedy, anachronistic touches and a healthy disrespect for the material. Othello is done as a rap song and the actors carry golf clubs when doing Macbeth, for example. And be aware that, after seeing this show, you might laugh in inappropriate places the next time you attend a production of Romeo and Juliet.

You have to admire the efficiency of it all. The players are a bit stunned when they realize that, as the curtain is beginning to fall on act one, they have taken care of 36 of the 37 plays (depending on what you count), with only Hamlet to cover in the second act. They take advantage of that luxury time to do that tragedy multiple times — as if the doomed Danish prince didn’t have enough trouble already.

This show is an excellent choice for most community theaters. It has a small cast, feasts on familiar carcasses and requires very little staging (although set designer Anthony Curtis does give the zaniness a starkly attractive backdrop). Not surprisingly, this troupe meets the script’s absurd challenge admirably.

The only nit that might be picked here is that this show is a younger man’s game. This cast has seen plenty of curtain calls, which is good. But the physical demands of the piece led to some excessive perspiration at the opening night performance seen for this review.

But, on the whole, this ridiculous dive into the Elizabethan era is pure fun. You will especially get a kick out of it if you know Shakespeare’s works. But you don’t even need to be able to read to find the humor in this intentionally crude and irreverent dance on sacred ground.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)