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STANDING ROOM ONLY: Complete SHKSPR
It might be a world record: Hamlet performed in 30 seconds flat.
Or how about backwards? Be to not or be to? That is the question, or at least a question, from which other, more pertinent questions arise, such as Why?
Well, for laughs, of course.
The Immortal Bard get a serious razzing in Whidbey Playhouses new production of the Compleat Wrks of Willm Shkspr (Abridged), a slapstick comedy of errors that slips, trips and spins through every last one of Shakespeares dramatic works, from Othello to Titus Andronicus or rather, Titus Androgenous.
You can guess from the above misnomer that the full bawdiness of Shakespeares work (tis country matters) is maintained, and even amplified. Double entendres and lewd innuendos are batted around like a whiffle-bird, with plenty of he comeths and she comeths delivered with knowing winks and nods. Much of the humor, in keeping with the original texts, is rather sophisticated; some is corny or pratfallish; and some jokes you might consider, well, rather excretory.
As in: Cleopatra pukes. Volumes. (Dont worry, its only silly string).
On the whole, the farce (directed by Rusty Hendrix) works something like an accordion, at times drawing out a single work such as Romeo & Juliet for full comedic effect, at other times compressing a handful of plays into a single, whooshing gust of giddy brevity. At one point, all sixteen of Shakespeares comedies get smunched into a single act, like an Elizabethan version of the Love Boat.
So, is it funny? Yes, often. Here its worth noting that all this madcappery and jousting to-and-fro is accomplished by only three actors Trey Hatch, Carolyn Travis and Dominic Santangelo who change costumes with Madonna-like regularity and still find the energy to deliver tongue-twisting mouthfuls of rapid-fire verse. In fact, much of the plays hilarity is in viewing this talented trio hurl themselves bionically around the stage, mooning, rapping, jousting, hamming it up, falling down, soliloquizing, barfing. They work up quite a sweat.
After a first act that sees Othello performed as hip-hop, Titus spoofed as a cooking show and King Lear dramatized as a football game, the second act slows down to dwell more lovingly, and ridiculously, on the tragedy of Hamlet. Something is rotten in Denmark, indeed, beginning with the fact that the ghost of Hamlets father looks like a big roll of toilet paper wheeling down erratically from the rafters on 10-test fishing line. Perhaps its a hint. At any rate, it is here, in deconstructionist mode, that the actors really excel; they merrily tear the play apart, and patch it together however they see fit.
It is also during Act II that the audience-participation aspect of the play runs its full course. An Ophelia is chosen from the unsuspecting (well, not anymore, I guess) crowd in order to perform a single, heartrending scream. Of course, the audition is rigged, so Ophelia must now undergo a sort of Freudian breakdown of her motivations. This analysis involves the whole theater-going audience, who must variously represent Ophelias psychological make-up by chanting, running around and waving their arms. Its chaos.
Life is full of riveting contrast, and one of the plays strongest moments arrives when all this noise and goofing and spoofing on stage suddenly stops dead, and a single light telescopes through the darkness. Santangelo steps forth and begins to recite Hamlets quintessence of dust soliloquy. You wait for the joke: a sneeze, a fart, a fall from the stage. Nothing happens. The speech is delivered straight, no chaser. Surrounded by the tension of comedic release, juxtaposed with unbridled irreverence, Shakespeares words ring powerfully and clearly, packed with a timeless resonance. Its a fine moment.
Of course, as with most comedies especially comedies that riff on classic material not everything about the Compleat Wrks of Willm Shkspr works. Often times, the humor can come across as forced or a tad sophomoric, though this is hardly the fault of the Whidbey Playhouse crew. Its in the script (which, by the way, was written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield). It goes without saying that its hard to compete with the best ever, and certain folks might cringe at hearing the tragedy of the Moor revved up like a Beastie Boys song.
Then again, this play isnt for purists. Let the purists, full of sound and fury, fly to Ashland if they need Shakespeare on the half shell. This here play is for all those roundheads who blow milk through their nose when they watch movies like Montey Pythons Holy Grail or Withnail & I. Its that kind of funny.
To see or not to see (the show)
What: The Compleat Wrks of Willm Shkspr (Abridged) running April 5-27
Where: Whidbey Playhouse, 730 SE Midway Blvd., Oak Harbor
Showtimes: Thursdays 7:30 p.m.; Fridays & Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sunday matinees at 2:30; bargain Thursday April 11, all tickets $8
Tickets: $11 adults; $9 youth; under 4 not admited