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Monday, 13 August 2012 13:18

Magic Smoking Shakespeare

Written by Robert Mitchell
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stlshakespeare.org
stlshakespeare.org

Have you been meaning to brush up on your Shakespeare, but fear you just haven’t got the time? Well, if you’ve got an hour and a half, you can cross that item off your bucket list by high-tailing down to St. Louis Shakespeare’s production of The Reduced Shakespeare Company’s The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).

Yes, you too can become a pre-eminent Shakespearean scholar in one and a half hours, if you pluck down a little cash and let 3 very talented and funny actors give you a visual tutorial on all 37 (or is it really 38?) Shakespearean plays - some of them in very abridged versions.

How about Titus Andronicus as a cooking show? You might be shocked to know that Titus kills and cooks up two of his daughters’ attackers, and as revenge, serves them up piping hot to their Mom and Dad – although I’ve always heard that “revenge is a dish best served cold”. Maybe The Tragedy of Othello as a rap? You’ve got that here, too! Got ADD? Well, 16 of the plays are combined into one handy-dandy Cliff note play. Or, for you sports fans that are dragged to the theater by your significant others, they’ve got something for you, also! How’d you like to see all off Shakespeare’s histories as a high-energy football game, complete with color commentary and lovely cheerleaders? Sign me up!

The entire second act is dedicated to that most celebrated of works: Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.

Some highlights: Hamlet’s dad performed by a sock puppet, an in-depth analysis of poor Ophelia’s subconscious, very silly Monty Python-esque swordplay, the entire show re-invented in shorter and shorter versions, and then – horror of horrors - backwards! (I think my favorite bit in the show is The Ghost of Hamlet’s Father appearing and moaning a scary “OOOOOB!

Jamie Kurth, Joshua Nash Payne and Ben Ritchie are quite hilarious as our scholars, filling the play with enough current events and pop culture references, all while moving at breakneck pace, and clearly delineating their three individual characters. All have standout moments, although Ritchie’s bemotional breakdown comparing this season’s episodes of Glee to the Immortal Bard still has me chuckling a little right now.

In the radio review I mistakenly attributed direction to Artistic Director Donna Northcott. My bad – I’m old. The production, however, IS directed by the always clever SUKI PETERS!!! – who helmed a bonafide hit in Cannibal the Musical last summer. Suki moves her actors thru the paces with surprising clarity, assured comic timing, and more than a little well-organized chaos. A tough show to keep on track well, but Suki Peters handles it like a champ. (A little hint – make sure you see anything that she directs! It is bound to be treated with love and laughs.) She has also been a mainstage actress for St. Louis Shakespeare’s goofy kid sister company, Magic Smoking Monkey – and the influence certainly shows here. So if you’re a big fan of Magic Smoking Monkey’s humor, then don’t let this throw you just because it’s included in the regular Shakespeare season. Head on down and get your Shakespeare groove on before it’s too late.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare continues through Aug. 19th at the Grandel Square Theater. For more tickets or more information, stlshakespeare.org, or call 314-361-5664.

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