“Though this be madness, yet there is method in `t.” Hamlet
The world is celebrating the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death and the Folger Theatre has joined in with a production that would probably have the Bard himself laughing in the aisle. For fans who appreciate all things Shakespeare, the Reduced Shakespeare Company needs no introduction. Those just discovering this troupe are in for a treat. The new production, a premiere of William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged), continues the group’s humorous and creative way of weaving together Shakespeare’s plots and characters with contemporary references thrown in. The result is a lightning-fast, razor-sharp laugh-fest.
The fun starts immediately as the three sneaker-clad actors – Reed Martin, Teddy Spencer, and Austin Tichenor – bound onto the stage, holding aloft the famed lost play, half a foot thick, the pages loosely bound together. We’re told about all the references within this “faux-bio,” – 101 Venetians, The Real Merry Housewives of Windsor, and, of course, CATS. The many references to Disney are certainly funny but also underline how Shakespeare’s influence is a cultural phenomenon. Spencer, who spends time dressed as the Little Mermaid, Ariel, calls Walt Disney “a modern day Shakespeare” and runs down the similarities between Will’s plays and Walt’s films. The Winter’s Tale? Frozen!
This scripted play has the feel of improv, particularly those bits that involve audience members. Two arrive late and incur the players’ rebuke and empathy: “You rue the day you took the Metro.” Since the two offenders left during intermission, we surmise they were plants. But two others – dubbed Dale and Gale – were obviously not, called onto stage during one segment to wave blue fabric to create the sea while the actors shot water pistols into the audience. (If you are not inclined to participate, make sure you’re not in the front row.)
The costumes add to the frivolity, particularly those that have the actors cross-dressing. The changes are made in rapid fashion so that the flow of the play is never affected. Particularly appealing are the Weird Sisters from Macbeth, one a puppet that is manipulated by Tichenor and resembles the witch from Disney’s Snow White.
Part of the fun is seeing characters from different Shakespeare plays interact. We have Puck (Martin) from A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a grudge match with The Tempest’s Ariel (Spencer); Hamlet up against Lady Macbeth; and Viola (Twelfth Night) alongside Richard III.
My one quibble is that the play runs a tad too long – one hour and 45 minutes with an intermission. Although the actors maintained their energy in the second act, several of the scenes, particularly those with Puck and Ariel, began to seem repetitive. Trimming fifteen minutes and presenting the entire thing in one act would have been a better approach.
Still there were plenty of laughs up to and including the end. And these days, heaven knows, we can all use a good laugh.
Photos by Teresa Wood
William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged)
201 East Capitol Street, SE