Doing Shakespeare is hard. Doing all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays – plus his sonnets – in 97 minutes, using only three actors, with lots of props, physical comedy and improvisation, and with no fourth wall between the actors and the audience…well, that’s just crazy.
But that’s what happens in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). And in its production of Complete Works, Silver Spring Stage aims to show that this particular craziness is hysterically entertaining for Shakespeare lovers, Shakespeare neophytes, and Shakespeare haters alike. The show opens Friday, January 10th, and runs weekends through February 1st.
The original Complete Works, written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield, premiered in 1987. It became a much-loved phenomenon, with Ben Brantley of The New York Times saying that it, “embodies one of comedy’s most essential impulses: the adolescent urge to take a baseball bat to the culturally revered.” In 2007, to celebrate the show’s 20th anniversary, Singer and Winfield updated it for 21st century audiences.
The ongoing interaction with those audiences makes each performance of Complete Works unique – not to mention unpredictable. And Director Todd Fleming and his three actors say that Silver Spring Stage, with its intimate environment and seating on two sides of the stage, is ideal for up-close-and-personal audience engagement. Says Andrew Greenleaf, who plays Andy, “The black box stage allows lots of room to move around, stage scenes, and create the whirlwind frenzy of comedic activity that will abound.” Steven Snapp, who plays Steve, adds that the lack of distance between actors and audience “gives a big boost to the energy.”
Perhaps you noticed there that actors named Andrew and Steven play characters named Andy and Steve. That’s standard for Complete Works. What’s not standard is that the third actor is female – Jennifer Osborn, who plays JenO. “Usually the show has a cast of three men,” says Producer Karen Fleming. “In changing the gender of one of the roles, Todd has added humor that will take audiences to a different – and hilarious – place.”
With its intense, interactive zaniness, Complete Works is quite unlike most other productions at Silver Spring Stage, whose mainstage plays so far this season have been The Baltimore Waltz and The Pillowman. But Fleming and his cast say it fits perfectly with the Stage’s tagline: “Little theater. Big ideas.” Fleming points out that comedy “is just as challenging, if not more so, than its dramatic and edgy counterparts.” And Greenleaf notes that Complete Works demands such effort and skill – not just performance-wise, but in terms of set, props, costumes and more – that “it has not been performed in this area in over eight years because it is so challenging.”
For the actors, one of the challenges is delivering the Bard’s lines – albeit in an often off-the-wall way. The three Silver Spring Stage actors came to Complete Works with widely differing levels of Shakespeare experience: Greenleaf has acted in or directed a double-digit number of Shakespeare productions; Osborn has acted in a few the Bard’s plays, and Snapp has no previous Shakespeare experience. Paradoxically, the character of Andy knows less about Shakespeare than the other two, but Greenleaf says Andy’s “exuberance is infectious and a lot of fun to play.” Osborn, meanwhile, says that “JenO allows me to be bigger than myself,” and Snapp describes Steve as “me, just with the usual inhibitions and modesty in shutdown mode.”
Familiarity with Shakespeare can make Complete Works even funnier. But with exuberance and inventiveness as the general atmosphere, audiences won’t need to know – or idolize – Shakespeare to have a great time at this Silver Spring Stage production. As The Today Show once said about Complete Works: “If you like Shakespeare, you’ll love this show. If you hate Shakespeare, you’ll love this show.”
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) plays From January 10-February 1, 2014 at Silver Spring Stage -10145 Colesville Road, in Silver Spring, MD. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. on January 19th and 26th. For tickets, purchase them online.