Shakespeare on the Green moves indoors this weekend to present "The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged)," directed by Nicole Damari '12 and Kirsten Ward '12. The play attempts to condense all 37 Shakespeare plays and 154 sonnets into one night. The result is an explosion of sounds and props.
There are only three characters, designed as caricatures of the actors who portray them. Becca Leeds '12 and Trevor Olds '14 play quintessential stereotypes of over-eager actors, and Bennett Ferris '13 plays their eager but much-abused straight man. While Leeds and Old emote and gesticulate emphatically, Ferris mostly bumbles through his actions — he has the best of intentions but little idea of how to please his demanding cast mates.
His clueless simplicity comes as a welcome relief. Leeds' voice booms through the theater for the show's two-hour run. It is impressive that she can stick to her character with such commitment. Her vocal styling and mock seriousness yield some of the show's funniest moments but also begin to grate on the audience in scenes where all of the focus is on her.
Olds' delivery is more dynamic, as is his character. At times, he is as pretentious as Leeds. At others, he is an excessively eager drama student, shrieking with excitement at the possibility of getting to perform "Hamlet."
"We were very intent on trying to cast three people who had very strong presences but would preferably take their parts in very different ways," Damari said.
Olds said playing a version of himself was "the hardest thing to do acting-wise."
The set is made up of wood frames with the cast and crew's bed sheets duct-taped to them, designed to look as though the actors had thrown it together with objects from a basement, Damari said.
This cobbled-together feeling pervades other aspects of the performance. "If you guys look unfinished, that's great," Ward told the cast.
Both directors said perfecting the comedic aspects was the most difficult part of the show. "People have such different senses of humor that it's really hard to know what other people will think is funny," Ward said.
"The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr" attempts to combat that difficulty by cramming as many jokes into every line as possible. Some fall flat, especially those thrown in to update the play or make it Brown-friendly. No one needs to name-drop Sarah Palin, and the fact that modern culture and media is a department at Brown really should have stopped amusing us a long time ago. Jokes involving actors vomiting on the audience grew similarly tiresome.
But the bulk of the show is very funny. It is tailor-made for theater geeks, but the variety of jokes promises something for everyone. Particular highlights include a slideshow illustrating the characters' super-comedy — a mash-up of all 16 Shakespearian comedies — and the histories interpreted as a multi-sided football game, with the actors going after a crown instead of a ball.
Most of Shakespeare's plays get a few words' mention. "Hamlet," on the other hand, gets multiple run-throughs. On the first go-around, it's a fairly standard — but rushed, cut down, irreverent and sometimes completely ad-libbed — interpretation.
Subsequent versions descend deeper and deeper into madness, until the cast is doing nothing but screaming meaningless monosyllables. By the end, they collapse on top of each other on the floor. It's hard to imagine them recreating this level of energy for a weekend full of performances.
"The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr" is running March 18-20 at Kassar House Fox Auditorium.
* * *
(Three out of five stars)
"The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr" comes in the midst of a season filled with re-imaginings of the Bard's work. It is certainly not, as Ferris said "dry, boring, vomitless Shakespeare." It is not high-brow, intellectual or elegant either. But it is deeply amusing.