Monday, June 17, 2013

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged*) by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield.

L - R, Lucas Peterson, Mike Niedzwiecki, Eric Bloom

By Joe Straw

This troupe got me thinking of those old gypsy movies, set circa 1616, where actors – tired, hungry, and bedraggled – park their wagon near a group of people living in a forest who do not get theatre. 

The tree people – also tired and hungry and with traces of the pox or remnants of the bubonic plague – open their mucous eyes, and feigned delight at the slight diversion in their lives of a performed art.    

Of course, the tree people have little money, and probably never saw or could afford a full-scale Shakespeare production.  But the sagacious and crafty troupe seeking any meager offerings (live healthy chickens and sanitized scraps of money) decide to give them a show.  And without wasting their energy on just Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Coriolanus, they put all their energy into giving them everything, abridged, in ninety minutes or less. (And hoped that no one sneezed, cough or reached out their filthy gritty hands.)  - Narrator

(*To shorten by omissions while retaining the basic contents)

“Sir, I commend you to your own content.”  First Merchant – Comedy of Errors

Santa Monica Rep presents The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged*) at the Promenade Playhouse written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield and directed by Sarah Gurfield. It is a wonderful show for young and old, short and tall, wide and thin, brunettes and blonds, brainiacs and buffoons.

“Over the boots? nay give me not the boots?” – Proteus – Two Gentlemen of Verona

As the play starts, Eric Bloom, the co-founder & Artistic Director of Santa Monica Rep, introduces us to the rules of the house, you know, candy wrappers, cell phones, fire exits, etc., and that leads him to introduce Mike Niedzwiecki, a preeminent Shakespearian Scholar.

“Do you intend to stay with me to-night?” – Lord – The Taming of The Shrew

Niedzwiecki, lovingly grasps the book, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, holds it to his nose and takes a big enjoyable tearful whiff.  He inquires about our knowledge, nay to know how many of us have seen a Shakespeare play. All hands went up.  Not expecting that response, Mike cowers and run over to Eric, and says he wasn’t prepared for this audience.

“I frown upon him, yet he loves me still.” – Hermia – A Midsummer-Night’s Dream

 After a brief discussion with Eric, Mike asked our audience member who has seen Shakespeare’s King John.  Two hands go up. But I suppose the man, wearing an athletic uniform raised his hand a little higher and was called upon to answer a question.  Mike asks him, Lucas Kwan Peterson, about “King John” and of course Lucas gets King John confused with Richard II, receiving a disparaging lashing from our pre-imminent scholar.

“How well he’s read, to reason against reading!” – King – Love’s Labour’s Lost

(In this particular production, it is best not to volunteer because you may find yourself up on stage, doing slightly embarrassing things, unless you are indeed an actor.)

And then the race is on to perform 37 plays in 90 minutes.

There are a lot of wonderful moments in this 1987 play by Long, Singer and Winfield.  They give us a taste to whet our Shakespearian appetites. And not only do we have Hamlet (in abridged* form) but Hamlet real fast, and then Hamlet backwards.  At the end, the actors were drenched in sweat and thrown into a human pile of flesh, center stage. And this is well worth the price of admission.

The writers give us the idea of a free form theatre.  Free to roam outside our comfort level. Anything is fair game so we get rapping, wild improvisation, some pop culture, featuring Harry Potter and some Star Wars thrown in to boot.  This is intentional in free form theatre.  And breaking the fourth wall is a necessary part of the show, much to the audience’s delight. I especially found fascinating the acting exercise that shows what is going on in the head of an actor during a performance. It is an abridged* examination of the craft which hits the nail right on the head.

Every actor has his own wonderful creative moment, and those moments serve as a fine showcase for these actors.  The audience members love them so much they walked out quoting Shakespeare (only in abridged* fashion).

L - R, Lucas Peterson, Mike Niedzwiecki, Eric Bloom 

Eric Bloom, with small elf-like features, handles himself marvelously on stage.  The unfathomable depths of his deep deep deep Scottish accent was almost like he was speaking another language, strangely enough, sounding a lot like English for that Scottish play (as he turns his head toward the audience and says it’s the best he can do). There are a number of marvelous moments in Bloom’s performance of the twenty-two characters that he performs on stage.  

Mike Niedzwiecki is incredibly funny as he pours through fourteen different characters.  There is a Titus Andronicus cooking show that works marvelously although the head in the pie and lady fingers for desert were a slightly gruesome, not appetizing, but oh so funny.  And did I say there were puppets?  The puppets were wickedly mature and marvelously humanized by Niedzwiecki – in one of the highlights of the show!

Lucas Peterson had most of the female roles, did not like it one bit, and would not do Coriolanus, because of the “anus” in the word - something about being beneath his religious dignity. His lab-coat ghost in Hamlet is money. And I particularly liked his monologue, done very simply, center stage, and with a great deal of human emotion.  With all the frivolity going on stage, this was just the icing on the cake.

Sarah Gurfield, the director, did a marvelous job. The football game worked to perfection.  The same with Othello’s rap song.  The audience just ate it up and everyone had a great time.

Bart Petty did a fantastic job as the Producer.  

 The Set Design by Jen Bloom & Jeremy Swain worked perfectly for this venue.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Costume Design – Madeline Keller
Lighting Design – Mike Stone
Sound Design – Noelle Hoffman
Props – Ann Marie Tullo
Stage Manager – Natalya Zernitskaya
ASM/Production Apprentice – Princella Baker, Jr.
Lighting Apprentice – John Mulhern
Publicity – Philip Sokoloff
Graphic Design – Brandon Roosa & Shannon Esra
Production Photographer – Mitch Goldstrom
Associate Producer – Jim Mueller
Set Builders – David Clayberg, Bart Petty, Brian Slaten, Shannon Esra, Yael Berkovich, Sean Pypers, Michelle Joyner.

Run!  Run! Run!  And takes someone who has an infectious laugh!

Through June 30, 2012

Fridays at 8:00pm
Saturdays and Sunday at 7:00pm

The Promenade Playhouse
1404 Third Street Promenade
Santa Monica, CA  90401

Phone:  213-268-1454

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