Personally, I have always been a huge fan of Shakespeare. My teenage brother on the other hand was a bit hesitant as I drove him to the James Lee Community Center for The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged. However, by the end of the first act, he was laughing hysterically, and thanking me profusely for dragging him along. Brilliant writing, comedic actors, and a clever use of audience participation make Flying Muskrat Theatre Company’s production a blast from start to finish.
Starring Brennan Jones, Zach Goubeaux, and Ernie Ambrose and written by William Shakespeare, Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield, the show sets out to cover all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays in 97 minutes, or as the actors so clearly state at the top of the show, to “prevent the complete works of William Shakespeare.” Either way, the actors meet their goal, even though the actors seem to create every obstacle imaginable for themselves, the production manages to cover every tragedy, comedy, and history with a little time to spare.
The script is hilarious, and the playwrights create the perfect balance between the actual Shakespearean plays and ridiculous humor that keeps the audience captivated. The also manage to keep each moment escalating in drama and comedy, which kept me interested. Particularly in their portrayal of Shakespeare’s tragedies, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged successfully exposes the humor within Shakespeare’s dramatic choices. For example, while Romeo and Juliet is considered to be one of the most romantic love stories of our time, Long, Singer, and Winfield highlight the hilarity in the idea that the two lovers are willing to die for each other after only meeting three days prior. While the production does manage to cover every play, the choice to spend slightly more time on two of the better-known Shakespeare plays, Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, helps make the show more relatable to a wider range of audience members, rather than solely targeting Shakespeare enthusiasts.
From the minute I walked into the theater, Stephanie Miller’s set immediately drew me into the action. The choice to turn the stage into a classic library setting complete with bookshelves, a comfy arm chair, and large copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare sets up the idea that the audience is in for a night of intellectual Shakespeare discussion. However, upon closer inspection, the shelves are filled with everything but books, ranging from wigs and baseball hats to helmets and tennis rackets. Throughout the production, the actors would pull random props from the bookshelves in order to add absurd ideas to the Shakespeare plays. The set on the whole complimented the play perfectly, and not only added to the humor, but also kept me invested by creating the constant question of which ridiculous prop they would pull next.
Typically I dislike audience participation and it immediately forces me take a step back from the world of the play, but the use of the audience in Flying Muskrat Theatre Company’s production actually drew me into the show even more. The actors immediately eliminate the barrier between the characters of the play and the audience through the constant weaving in and out of the audience and asking them questions. This choice made me feel involved in the action, which kept me interested, but also created the sense that the audience could help in adding the humor to the production.
The play presents a few challenges for the actors. Because the script calls for constant humor, the actors could run into the problem of over-acting, or throwing too much at the audience at a given moment. On top of that, without a team that is fully in sync and willing to work together, the jokes could fall flat. However, Ambrose, Goubeaux, and Jones not only conquered these challenges with ease, but their chemistry was the most enjoyable part of the production. I believed I was watching three best friends put on a play, which created the perfect atmosphere for the performance. Their ability to play off and support each other, combined with all three actors’ impressive comedic timing pushed the hilarity over the top.
Each actor seemed to have his own purpose within the production that highlighted his own strengths. Goubeaux showcased an impressive talent for accents that helped him conquer each of the female roles that he portrayed in the show. Ambrose played some of the most ridiculous characters,like his approach to Laertes in Hamlet, yet he portrayed them with a certain seriousness that made me believe their role in the world of the play. Jones’ role as the pre-eminent Shakespeare scholar sets up the production perfectly, and immediately informs the audience that they are in for a hilarious evening. The three actors successfully carried the play from moment to moment with high energy that kept me wanting more.
Flying Muskrat Theatre Company’s production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare made for a night to remember. The actors have forever changed Shakespeare in my eye, but I believe it is for the better. Based on the roar of laughter that erupted from audience members of all ages throughout the show, I would say I was not the only one won over.
Running Time: Approximately one hour and 40 minutes.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare plays August 3, 9, and 10, 2013 at Flying Muskrat Theatre Company at James Lee Community Center – 2855 Annandale Road, in Falls Church, VA. Order your tickets online, or purchase them at the door.