|Image belongs to Glimmerglass and/or the Farmer's Museum|
I have always been a judgmental reader with high standards. With the notable exception of Tolkien, I was almost never a fan of anything considered a “classic… which I’m sure you can imagine made me a joy in high school and college lit classes. I long harbored a particular dislike for both Shakespeare and Dickens. Frankly, I was quite convinced Dickens wouldn’t have ever written a single word if anti-depressants had been available to him.
Shakespeare largely fell victim to my high expectations for strong characters. Compared to the brave souls I was reading about in historical fiction, science fiction and fantasy novels at the time, the Bard’s cast simply wasn’t impressive. Romeo threw tantrums like a two-year old, MacBeth let his wife treat him like a doormat, and my tenth grade teacher essentially boiled the entire plot of Julius Ceasar down to “Brutus was an honorable man”… the fact that he killed his best friend apparently not withstanding.
This low opinion makes it all the more entertaining that I had such a fabulous time this past weekend at a show entitled “The Compleat Works of William Shakespeare [Abridged] [Revised]”. Presented in partnership between a local theatre company and nearby living history museum, the show was billed as “three men hilariously try and fail to present all Shakespeare’s works in 90 minutes”.
The tickets were a good price, and we actually didn’t have anything scheduled that day, so scheduled an impromptu date to go check it out. It was a gorgeously sunny afternoon as we headed to the museum’s beautiful stone barn, which had been restored and turned into a giant multi-purpose space with enormous sliding doors, folding wooden shutters, wide plank floors, and a small stage.
From the show’s introduction by an ostensible “pre-eminent Shakepearian scholar” – complete with a certificate from PreEminentShakespearianScholar.com – and the somewhat confused bio of the Bard which another actor read to us from Wikipedia via his phone (that somehow accidentally switched to Hitler’s bio halfway through), we knew we were in for a good time.
Highlights of the show included Titus Andronicus presented as a cooking show, all of Shakespeare’s histories condensed and presented as a football game (with two of the actors using a crown in place of a football, tackling and stabbing each other as the sportscaster style narration tracked the passing of the crown through kings John, Richard and Lear) and a neat compilation of nearly all of the comedies into a single, massive bacchanalian party. Nearly every female character necessitated the donning of a stringy blonde wig and the swigging of poison, followed by subsequent profuse (faux) vomiting and dramatic death (despite insistence from the “Pre-Eminent Shakespearan Scholar” that no such vomiting actually happened in the plays).
The show ended with Hamlet, which was turned into an interactive experience for the audience as we recreated Ophelia’s deep inner turmoil. Yours truly was elected to go on stage to play the role of Ophelia’s id, screaming dramatically. (Because who else would you choose for such a job besides an introvert?) On the bright side, it gave me a perfect position from which to watch different sections of the audience get corralled into playing other parts of Ophelia’s psyche. My personal favorite was the section assigned to say “Cut the crap, Hamlet! My clock is ticking, and I want babies now!” Seriously, if Shakespeare’s women had actually been that direct in the plays, think how differently things would have turned out!
Everything ended on a high note by the actors recapping Hamlet in 30 seconds, first in order… and then backwards! The entire show was a riot, and we had a wonderful time. If you ever get a chance to go see the show, I highly recommend it.