A Riotous, Abridged 'Shakespeare' Romp At Playhouse On Park

The Bard’s Scottish play, with golf clubs and argyle socks. His history plays as a slo-mo football game (“Quarterback gives to the Hunchback”). Even, strangely, a two-man underwater version of  Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya.”

 "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)" takes many forms. It has fun with the sacred texts of the bard, as well as with how pretentious or indulgent some of his interpreters can be. In one of the longer bits in the show, the audience is divided into a Freudian id, ego and superego to comically explicate Ophelia's state of mind in "Hamlet."

Mostly, happily, it's dumb jokes. The three actors in the Playhouse on Park rendition of this small theater staple — running through July 30 at the West Hartford theater — enhance this silly literary wit with frantic physical comedy.

Sean Harris tunes and strums a guitar that has no strings for a folk-rock song about "Desdemona." Rich Hollman can't seem to stop himself from mock-vomiting on the audience. "Barfing is not an interpretation," he is counseled.

Hanna Cheek, crashing what is usually a boy's club — "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)" was created by the Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield of the Reduced Shakespeare Company in 1987 and is traditionally a three-man show — is especially good at settling the audience back down after a particularly riotous routine, or vamping verbally while the others pretend to enter late.

Sean Harris and Rich Hollman and director Tom Ridgely all did "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)" at Playhouse on Park in 2010. The cameraderie is apparent, and Cheek fits smoothly into the show's old-pals vibe. The performers are actors, not improv comedians, doing rather complex scripted material. But they understand how crucial it is that this show seems casual, goofy, friendly and off-the-cuff.

They're using the offical 2010 "Revised" edition of the script. There are further revisions to revel in, seamlessly injected into the manic proceedings. There are recent pop culture references to "House of Cards," "Stranger Things," "Hamilton" and "Wonder Woman." Anne Hathaway, Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom are among the names dropped. There are several Trump jokes. Locals who get shout-outs include A.C. Peterson (the century-old ice cream parlor next door to the playhouse) and the Yard Goats.

One of the funniest parts of this production, and one which speaks volumes about Playhouse on Park and how much fun it clearly has doing these shows, is the set. There basically isn't one. The show takes place on a bare stage with a couple of ladders on the sides and a ratty curtain at the back. But behind that curtain is an entire other set, and we see only small bits of as the curtain parts to let the actors through. We are led to presume that this large, hidden set is for a different show happening at the theater at a different time. It's not. It's a bright, colorful, detailed parody of small theater stagecraft that the playhouse tricked up lovingly for this production. Just as we get brief comic insights into the works of Shakespeare, we also get glances at the sweet intensity of small theaters.

"The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)" is not an academic treatise or a high-minded satire. It's an unabashed celebration of theater geekdom.

THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED) — REVISED EDITION by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Borgeson, romps through July 30 at Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Road, West Hartford. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2 p.m. $25 to $40. 860-523-5900, playhouseonpark.org.

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