In the Moment: ‘William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged)’ at Folger Theatre

The boys from the Reduced Shakespeare Company (RSC) have been a mainstay in the DC area for decades. They never wear out their welcome whether performing at the Folger, The Kennedy Center or Reston’s CenterStage where they are an annual visitor.

Pictured (l to r): Reed Martin, Teddy Spencer, and Austin Tichenor. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Pictured (l to r): Reed Martin, Teddy Spencer, and Austin Tichenor. Photo by Teresa Wood.

RSC is now at the Folger Theatre with the premiere of their William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged).  The show was written and directed by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, who also appear in the production along with Teddy Spencer.

The premise behind the new RSC production starts, as described in Folger marketing material:

Discovered in a treasure-filled parking lot in Leicester, England, an ancient manuscript proves to be the long-lost first play by none other than the young William Shakespeare from Stratford.

Sure we know that is all fiction, but buying in to the fiction for the evening is easy. It provides the point of departure into marvelous music hall entertainment for these overly serious times here in the Nation’s Capital.  There is no need to brush up your Shakespeare to enjoy William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged).  And thank you Cole Porter for that line. The production is a truly rowdy, whip-smart ride through all one could even want to know about the Bard’s works and characters, as long as you accept that it is a gleeful mash-up not to be taken too seriousl

My DCMTA colleague Emily Gilson has provided the glowing review with plenty of character details that the production earns and deserves. Let me add a few additional admiring words.

Nothing is holy in the RSC production. That is the true joy of it. Nothing is above being skewered, or taken to task and lightly humiliated. Well OK, some scenes are bit overboard and led me to groan a wee bit. Then again, the wild trip starts before the show, reading Folger program notes written by Martin and Tichenor.

Guided by Puck (Reed Martin) and Ariel (Teddy Spencer) we are catapulted into an invention not just of all things known and presumed about Shakespeare’s first take on his characters, but come to learn of some rather tight connections between Walt Disney and Shakespeare. Who knew? Not every skit hits its mark, not can be expected to be. There are just so many, and if one doesn’t suit you, one is right behind the temporary wall that the RSC boys disappear behind every few minutes.

William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged is a fast-moving; no make that dizzying paced work of comic artistry. It is vaudeville for our times. It works diligently to wipe sadness and any depression from the current times from anyone who partakes. Even if we think ourselves “too mature” for such high-jinx.There is no sub-plot, nothing to obsess over. For those with a bit of unease about all of the cross-dressing, do remember that in Shakespeare’s times female rolls were played by boys and men. So Ariel, Juliet all the cross dressing characters that Spencer inhabits, well for the Bard that was how it was done.

Do read the Folger program notes from Dramaturg Michele Osherow.  Once again Osherow provides readers with an unstuffy, smart, smoothly written entry point to understanding Shakespeare. In this particular case, Osherow’s notes speak to the centuries old attempts to make “improvements” to Shakespeare. So the boys from RSC have done their own comic Rude Mechanicals take; not unusual at all.

Speaking of un-stuffy; before the performance patrons have the opportunity to view a Gillian’s Island episode about Shakespeare with Phil Silvers yet. It along with several other vids including the expected scenes from West Side Story are part of a large exhibition about Shakespeare in America over the centuries.

The Reduced Shakespeare Company L to R: Austin Tichenor, Teddy Spencer, and Reed Martin on stage as the Weird Sisters. Photo by Teresa Wood.

The Reduced Shakespeare Company L to R: Austin Tichenor, Teddy Spencer, and Reed Martin on stage as the Weird Sisters. Photo by Teresa Wood.

For those wanting to have a ball and an excuse to be loud and boisterous leaving the show after final curtain, then head on out to an evening of merriment at the Folger. RSC’s has been doing this for lots of year, and they haven’t lost any of their cylinders.

One final comment. In a recent message the Folger Director Michael Witmore wrote that, ‘Shakespeare belong to all of us.‘  He went on to write with wisdom and authority that:

Shakespeare speaks to us in 2016 because politics, war, and the task of trying to understand one another still matter. Markets and social media will only teach us so much about what drives us; to learn more, we need the humanities and the arts that inspire them. Shakespeare’s stories are a touchstone for this kind of reflective thinking. 

Bravo Mr. Witmore.

And applause to the Folger Theatre and the Reduced Shakespeare Company for a very unstuffy take on the great one, William Shakespeare. It’s a joy to see the Folger stage filled with such an unorthodox take on the Man, his works and all his delicious characters.

Running Time:  One hour and 45 minutes, with one intermission.

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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.

Note: Listen to a Shakespeare Unlimited podcast episode with Austin Tichenor and Reed Martin.

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