All the world’s a stage, and all the Shakespearean plays merely subject to minor editing in the name of comedy. Whether it’s breaking down the beats of an Othello rap or perfecting the sous-vide cooking methods of a human head, The District Players superbly present The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Abridged (and revised!)
37 Shakespearean works. 3 actors. Under two hours. This is the madness that ensues from the minds of playwrights Jess Winfield, Daniel Singer, and Adam Long. The original production debuted at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1987, later becoming one of the world’s most frequently-produced plays. Some prior knowledge of the bard’s most popular tales (Romeo and Juliet, Othello, and Hamlet, to name a few) will lead to a fuller experience, though audiences of all levels of exposure will enjoy the slapstick hilarity that teems throughout.
Even is Shakespeare doesn’t top your list of playwrights, you can still appreciate his humorous portrayals of lust, greed, honor, and irony. Director Brennan Jones flawlessly weaves together these concepts to effectively find the comedy hidden in tragedy and vice versa. The outdoor venue creates a unique balance of intimacy and expansiveness, the fleeting continuation of nature combining with the absurdity of acts portrayed on stage. Pre-show entertainment music and juggling tricks make the atmosphere comfortable and interactive. Just stay out of the two front rows of “splash zone!” (I’m just joking…or am I?)
Matt Provance, Jason William Steffen, and Zach Goubeaux team up in a powerhouse trio of boundless energy. Provance establishes his lofty title of a “preeminent Shakespeare scholar,” complete with web certification, early on in the piece. His witty bit of narrative charm overlays Steffen’s expert portrayal of many famous leading men, while Goubeaux’s high-pitched squeals and accent skills allow him to transform seamlessly through various ages and genders. Each actor blends the classical text with modern speech naturally. The second act drags just a little, but the cast themselves handle the physical prowess and demanding costume quick changes admirably.
While individual actors evidently shine, one of the most impressive feats lies in the cohesion of the tight-knit group. Each play portrayal feels personably tailored to this region, time period, and audience demographic. Three actors maintain an impressive synthesis of wacky, over-the top physicality with well-rehearsed precision. The silly melodramatic moments do not feel forced, but aptly appropriate and respectfully executed.
Stephen Miller’s set fills the stage with simplistic ambience, and the multitude of props aid comedic moments without detracting attention away from actors. Assistant Stage Manager, Julian Hockenberry, keeps scene transitions in check without any mishaps. Stage Manager Lauren Katz gives steady, ample support to the fast-paced production.
A beautiful afternoon at the outdoor amphitheater in Lee District Park became a memory of communal laughter, relaxation, and sharing. The District Players create an accessible and thoroughly captivating tribute to Shakespeare’s timeless narratives. For never was a story of more glee than this of water guns, aluminum swords, and theaters in trees.
Running Time: Two hours including one intermission.
The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged!) plays this weekend, August 14-16, at The District Players performing at Lee District Park – 6601 Telegraph Road, in Alexandria, VA. Purchase tickets online.
Saturday, August 15th at 2 PM and 6:30 PM
Sunday, August 16, 2015 at 2 PM and 6:30 PM
An Interview With Matt Provance, Zach Goubeaux, and Director Brennan Jones on The District Players’ ‘The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged!) Which Plays August 14-16th by Nicole Andres.