Shakespeare has a reputation for leaving a bad impression on students worldwide. Maybe it’s the elevated language, maybe it’s the complicated plots, maybe it’s simply the fact that his works are “old,” but The Bard’s works, though widely read, are not always widely appreciated. Over the next few weekends, however, AU theatre students will take audiences on a rollercoaster ride of jokes and gags to help people lighten up and enjoy Shakespeare in the spring play “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: Abridged.”
Yes, you read correctly. The Complete Works. Abridged. How is this possible? Compression.
The show itself only features three actors and a live sound effects technician on stage. The actors seek to enlighten audiences about the value of Shakespeare but also to value the audience’s time by getting through all of his works in less than two hours. Lovers and haters of Shakespeare are guaranteed a good time. Cast member Cassi Russel describes the experience as “sort of making fun of Shakespeare, but also giving you a lesson about Shakespeare, combining all of Shakespeare’s stories into one comedic lump of hilarity.”
Much of that hilarity comes in the improvised moments and crude props the cast uses in order to speed up the show.
Audience participation is one of the defining aspects of the experience when it comes to “Shakespeare Abridged.” The limited seating is on the Byrum Hall stage, placing the audience close enough to have the action right in their faces, or to be dragged into it themselves. Actor Katie Judge explained that much of the humor from “Shakespeare Abridged” comes from audience involvement. Someone is pulled onstage to play a part, audiences will be asked to chant and cheer to embody a character’s subconscious—if you’ve never attended an immersive theatre experience, “Shakespeare Abridged” is just about the best place you can start.
Each production of “Shakespeare Abridged” is different, with jokes and gags adapted or added to fit the audience or current events, so the show audiences will find on Byrum Hall stage is unique to the AU production. AU students especially can expect nods and inside jokes that were written specifically for them.
These kinds of jokes, combined with witty pop-culture references and slap-stick comedy, make for an evening of humor where there is truly something for everyone. Judge admits that fans of Shakespeare will get the most out of the show, but even with a rudimentary knowledge of Shakespeare, audiences will have plenty to enjoy.
“Even if you don’t appreciate Shakespeare for what it is, this is so crazy and so funny that you leave wanting more,” Judge said.
The show is a whirlwind of almost constant motion, performers running back and forth, on and off stage, playing a prince, an old maid (or a young one), or even breaking from a scene to chase each other into the back of the theatre.
Though the pacing may drag at the calmer times, it is the moments of mayhem where the cast really excels.
Judge carries the cast with her strong presence and even stronger handle of literally thousands of words. Words are the currency of Shakespeare and comedy, and with Judge, not a single penny is wasted. She handles the sharp transitions from story to story and from punch line to punch line with precision and control. An experienced comedienne, her expertise shows as she coolly listens to and plays off of her audience to riotous effect.
Russel, on the other hand, shines the most when connecting directly to her audience, and it is her attentive ear to the people in the seats that helps us feel welcome and a part of the production.
One of the biggest surprises is relative newcomer and freshman student Pia Gossweiler, who holds her own among her much more experienced peers Judge and Russel. “Shakespeare Abridged” is only her second show on Byrum Hall stage (and her first comedy), but it is obvious the stuff is in her blood.
Of the three, she is the one who most easily and visibly lets go and has fun. The sometimes precarious balance between Judge’s control and Gossweiler’s freedom provides the show with some of its most charming and hysterical moments.
“The show is so fast-paced and so high energy that after the show it feels like you’ve run ten miles,” said Russel, and the sentiment certainly echoes at least in part with the audience. Though some of the newer jokes feel tired or forced and the cast is truly only at its best and fullest energy as a group, “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare-Abridged” is bound to make your belly tired from laughing.
“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare-Abridged” is running April 15, 16, 22, 23 at 7:30 p.m. and April 16 and 24 at 2:30 p.m. in Byrum Hall. AU students receive two free tickets.