The Complete Works of William Shakespeare - abridged/revised by Long, Singer & Winfield presented by Contra Costa Civic Theatre, El Cerrito, Jan 31 - Feb 23, 2014
Now a quarter-century old, this favorite of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival retains its freshness in telling the tales of the Bard that are 400 years old. Well, it kind of tells the tales. They tell their version of a handful of tragedies, combine the comedies into one mash-up because they all follow a basic format, and the histories are presented in a football game timeline.
35 of the 37 plays are represented in the first act. Coriolanus is eliminated because of "that" word. Act II is wall to wall Hamlet, presented three times, each as a synopsis of its predecessor, and finally in reverse. The fourth wall is not only eliminated by these Shakespearian professors, but the audience is regularly actively engaged in the proceedings.
Traditionally, the play is presented by three male actors, occasionally four. This production had a female cast, comprised of Hannah Quigg, Trish Tillman and Shannon Warrick, under the direction of CCCT Artistic Director Marilyn Langbehn. I commented to Marilyn that I had not previously seen a production but, after seeing the perfectly engaging performance of these Bardy ladies, I was having difficulty imagining it being performed by guys.
The characterizations by this threesome were not meant to be true Shakespearean meatiness. Their over-arching goal is to provide us with as much information as possible in 90 minutes, accuracy and truth be damned. But neither of those elements are important to us, as an audience. We were having a great time because they were having a great time in taking on the demands of the challenge. It was wonderful that the personalities of their personal characters were allowed to intertwine with their Shakespearean counterparts.
If you go to the show for an education, you probably won't gain much additional usable insight. If you go for an evening of true Shakespeare, your appetite will not likely be quenched. If you come for an engaging, madcap, thoroughly theatrical evening of non-stop joy that, incidently, includes Shakespeare, you're in the exactly right place.