Whatever you’re doing, stop now. Run – do not walk; run – to Folger Theatre for the glorious ray of sunshine that is William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged).
Created by the Reduced Shakespeare Company (which abbreviates itself RSC and could probably give that other RSC a run for their money), this world premiere production features a stellar cast of three: writers and Co-Directors Austin Tichenor and Reed Martin, and RSC newcomer Teddy Spencer, playing themselves. The play imagines them just returned from a tour in London, where, buried under a parking lot in Leicester, they found a 100-hour-long manuscript written in the 17-year old Shakespeare’s very own hand (a “faux-lio,” if you will).
The result is a loving, self-deprecating riff on Shakespeare’s complete canon, condensed into about 90 minutes and chock full of hilarious references to Disney, Winnie the Pooh, contemporary literature, film– if it’s anything involving Shakespeare in pop culture, it’s there. Famous speeches are mangled and lumped together into very funny new ones. This “first play” places all Shakespeare’s characters together in one universe, which continuously references itself, and imagines them messed with a la Midsummer by Puck (Martin) and Ariel (Teddy Spencer in a Little Mermaid costume). There’s even a reference to Cardenio, the actual “lost play,” supposedly written by Shakespeare in 1613, and the question of exactly how many plays he actually authored (36 or 42, depending on who you ask).
Every Shakespeare trope is here: cross-dressing, very, very dirty jokes (this one is not for kids), minimal set, quick changes, a shipwreck, twins, political puns (typical in Shakespeare anyway, but this is DC, after all), spontaneous breaking into song – featuring, at one point, Richard III playing a ukulele. There are kazoos. There are puppets. There is an Oberon who looks like a Mexican wrestler. And if you’ve ever wondered how many ways one can riff on “To be or not to be,” the answer is: a lot. And they’re all hilarious.
RSC clearly love and admire the Bard, and this admiration for him shines throughout the entire show. Martin, Spencer, and Tichenor have created an absolutely perfect Shakespeare tribute with something to please everyone, regardless of familiarity with the language. Everything about it is fun. I laughed until I cried. Several times.
The show is also participatory, to a point, so don’t sit in the front if you’re not comfortable playing along. But while you’re there, definitely do check out the wonderful “America’s Shakespeare” exhibit in the Folger’s main hall, which the show is playing in conjunction with through the end of its run as part of Folger’s “Wonder of Will: 400 Years of Shakespeare” project, and which is open through July 24th.
Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, including one intermission.
William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged) plays through May 8, 2016 at The Folger Theatre – 201 East Capitol Street SE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 544-7077, or purchase them online.