By Jordan Wright (Photo/Matt Liptak)
If you missed the last word in the title of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged),” now playing at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, actor Dave Wright is keen to impress it upon you as he holds up the weighty leather-bound collection of “The Complete Works of Shakespeare” for all to see. You tell yourself: There’s no way three actors can get through all those pages. But they do — well, sort of, and in unexpected ways.
Joanna Henry takes the helm as director, keeping up the lickety-split pace both on- and off-stage, where the actors are just as likely to be as they race through the aisles and leap up on handrails to deliver a line.
I won’t be enumerating which or how many roles each actor portrays, since I lost count before the end of the first act, as the quick-change artists morphed into male and female roles as easily as chameleons. But the stout-figured Wright, along with the lanky, deer-in-headlights wide-eyed Hans Dettmar and the diminutive Sean g. Byers, who rhapsodizes that “this book will be found in every hotel room in the world,” make up the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s entire cast.
They are keen to remind us that Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets and 37 plays, which the actors — nay, comedians — merrily condense into one. To prove they are up to the challenge, they announce, “We don’t have to do it justice. We just have to do it!”
Using every trick in the book, the trio combine pratfalls, spoofs, rap lyrics and a ton of crazy props as they speed dial their way through all 37 of the bard’s classics including, but not limited to, “Othello,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Antony and Cleopatra” and, of course, “Macbeth,” which they point out to the uninformed is the one word you can never say in the theater.
To make it more relatable, they toss in topical references like “The Real Housewives of Potomac” to describe a scene in “Romeo and Juliet,” and call on the recently uttered words of Donald Trump to express the size of a wall — “It’s gonna be huge!” — to keep the lovers apart. But for the most part, the process is achieved through costume changes and hilariously bungled lines. Somehow a blow-up dinosaur figures in. It’s CliffsNotes on a runaway horse.
Straight out of the gate, the audience roars at the blaze of high-voltage activity. It’s utterly contagious, more so when a member is plucked from their seat and invited to participate in some of the shenanigans. That they manage to squeeze, scrunch and slap together all these comedies, tragedies and histories is a wonder in and of itself.
In one particularly silly scene, Punch and Judy are employed to express Ophelia’s plight. The frustrated Ophelia cries out, “Cut the crap, Hamlet, my biological clock is ticking and I want babies now,” summing up her dismay. And in the depiction of “King Lear,” which is realized as a football game, an actor quips, “the quarterback gives it to the hunchback.”
To borrow from Hamlet’s old chatterbox, Polonius, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” And these three have it down to a science.