‘Complete Works’ cracks up crowds

In the words of the Bard, “brevity is the soul of wit.” This mantra can clearly be seen in Cap and Bells’ recent production of the ambitious, cheeky and often offensive work The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield. The play, which ran from Nov. 13 to Nov. 15, was the first to be performed in Goodrich since its reopening and was directed by Sara Harris ’11 and assistant directed by Tess McHugh ’11, and starred Ralph Morrison ’10, Evan Maltby ’11 and Noah Schechter ’12.

The premise of Complete Works is simple: present Shakespeare’s entire repertoire (37 plays) in 90 minutes. The execution, however, is anything but. Traditionally, the show calls for three actors who keep their own names and, to an extent, their own personalities intact, and attempt to portray every pivotal character from Shakespeare’s comedies, tragedies and histories with the help of a mind-boggling number of props and costume quick-changes. But that’s really where the continuity ends. The director and cast of each show insert their own lines, jokes and props into the play to reference the pop culture at the time of production, as well as the location at which the show is performed.

Consequently, no two productions of Complete Works are the same. This particular performance was largely the brainchild of Harris, McHugh and their cast and crew, and the lines and references they came up with made the normally entertaining show downright side-splitting. Essentially, if Shakespeare, sketch comedy and this particular cast and crew had a three-way lovechild, it would be Complete Works.

Some of Shakespeare’s works were covered more true-to-form and in-depth than others. Schechter and Maltby’s interpretation of Romeo and Juliet was the most literal of the show’s parodies, presenting a potpourri of the play’s pivotal moments. From the moment Schechter donned a wig to portray Juliet and Maltby entered as the most effeminate Romeo ever played, it became parody magic. Maltby also showcased his jack-of-all-trades acting abilities by also portraying Sampson, the Nurse and Friar Lawrence. The chemistry between Maltby and Schechter in these scenes was one of the show’s strongest points. Schechter’s naiveté, petulance and overall endearing innocence was wonderfully contrasted with Maltby’s sometimes arrogant, wry sense of humor.

Perhaps the most crowd-pleasing and production-specific portion of the show was the 16-in-one presentation of Shakespeare’s comedies. This is one example of how the group took an excellent script and put it over the top. Combining a rapid-fire PowerPoint slide show that featured literal pictures with the words that the actors used to describe the plays was easily one of the comedic cruxes of the evening.

Another standout in the production was the troupe’s interpretation of Othello. Although largely off-color, it was both one of the funniest moments of the show and a great example of how well the three actors worked together. In a characteristic moment of endearing confusion, Schechter attempted to start Othello as a pirate wearing tugboats, parrots and a hook, but after Maltby not-so-gently informed Schechter that “moor” was not referring to a place to tie up boats but to someone of African descent. While initially they claim to be unable to portray this effectively – “We’re of a Caucasian persuasion,” Morrison informs the audience – the ingenious Schechter gets an idea. What follows is the “Othello Rap,” during which the three play off each other in order to tell the story of the Moor of Venice. The moments of perfect unison and completion of each other’s rhymes were both charming and indicative of the chemistry between the three.

The Complete Works parody of Hamlet is probably what the show is most known for, and composes the entirety of the second act. It also involves the most audience participation, which is a large part of what makes this show so enjoyable. When Schechter insists that the role of Ophelia is the most complex (and after grudgingly donning his wig yet again to play it), the troupe decides the audience must help develop her character. One unassuming and it turns out, often painstakingly shy girl is brought up from the audience, and asked to portray Ophelia. The poor audience member, of course, never screams as convincingly as the troupe would like and so the audience is divided into sections and enlisted to represent the parts of her id, ego and superego and instructed to call out lines to help the volunteer get into character, including the not-so-Shakespearean: “Cut the crap Hamlet, my biological clock is ticking and I want babies now!”

Morrison’s shining moment of the show came with his portrayal of Hamlet; in this case, a cheese-head wearing lunatic who silly-walks around the stage and eats pages of a collection of Ibsen plays. His impeccable sense of comedic timing is his strongest suit throughout the show. Hamlet also involved some of the most delightfully absurd props of the show, including a dinosaur vs. king puppet show, a “Playa” cup for Gertrude’s poison goblet and a blow-up doll to handle the stunts.

To end their show on an even more impressive note, after their initial rendition of Hamlet, the three declare they will do perform the play even faster. Madness ensues as props fly everywhere and lines are jumbled together incoherently, but it’s a comical field day. Perhaps the crème de la crème of the performance is when they decide to do Hamlet backwards and literally reverse all their lines and blocking until they ended with a triumphant backwards bow and declaration of “You, thank!” that brought the audience to its feet.

Much of this show’s success is conducive to the individual nuances that Morrison, Maltby and Schechter brought to this production. Morrison’s esteemed scholarly influence, his mad Hamlet and overall cheekiness made for a very different kind of humor than Schechter’s angelic, adolescent and often confused character, which in turn brought something very different to the table than Maltby’s hammy and perfectly over-the-top moments, as well as his authoritative attempt to try to keep the chaos of the show from getting too out of hand. The three each brought exactly what was needed for a successful production of this popular parody and worked together flawlessly to achieve it.