Review: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare…Abridged at Annapolis Shakespeare Company

TheatreBloom rating:

1,122 roles. 37 plays. 154 sonnets. 3 guys. 97 minutes. If that doesn’t make for one hell of a singular theatrical experience, I don’t know what does. Nothing short of Shakespearean shenanigans, Bardian buffoonery, and Stratford-Upon-Avon silliness, The Annapolis Shakespeare Company returns for its fourth annual summer venture into the series they call “Comedy in the Courtyard” and this year they’re bringing The Complete Works of William Shakespeare…Abridged along for the ride. Directed by Sally Boyett, this evening of entertainment is a madcap menagerie of heightened hilarity from start to finish. Encompassing a full globe of high-end humor, physical slapstick comedy, and a healthy dose of sexual puns, the show will keep you chuckling heartily every step of the way.

The feat seems daunting at best and disastrously impossible at worst, but playwrights Adam Long Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield take the task to hand and sort out an exacting methodology that is primed for laughter turning even the darkest of the Bard’s tragedies into hysterical romps through the comedic garden. While the play itself is geared toward anyone with even the slightest passing familiarity of Shakespeare, those who have a more intimate working knowledge of the Bard’s work will take away a great deal more of the jokes over the course of the evening. Pandering to audiences of all comedic appreciations there are intellectual-wit driven jokes, shtick humor, physical and bodily humors in play and a great deal of other laughable matters at hand to keep everyone engaged with the utter tomfoolery that unfolds over the course of the evening.

Director Sally Boyett runs a tight ship in the courtyard. With an intimate play space amid the dining tables, the three performers have their work cut out for them, but Boyett’s strategic staging allows for maximum hilarity and engagement with the audience while keeping the performance rolling at a breakneck pace. Driving the show forward with rigorous intent lends itself to the playwrights promise of getting all 37 majors works rattled off in just over 90 minutes and makes the prospect of digesting all of the Bard’s brilliance that much more palatable.

Brian Keith MacDonald (left) Johnny Weissgerber (center) and John Bellomo (right) in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare...Abridged
Brian Keith MacDonald (left) Johnny Weissgerber (center) and John Bellomo (right) in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare…Abridged Joshua McKerrow

Boyett’s sartorial selection for the three performers— who play themselves as Shakespearean aficionados taking on the dozens of characters featured in the work— are uniquely appropriate to the overall pacing and widespread humor of the show. In addition to period-pieces aplenty, like puffy pantaloons and fancy floppy caps, Boyett bedecks her players in brightly colored leggings, converse sneakers, and high-legged sport socks. This is perfect costuming for the exhausting amount of energy they put into racing through the show like emphatic sportsmen in addition to making the “football recount” of the histories segment feel that much more authentic. High praise is owed to Boyett for her costume choice for Brian Keith MacDonald’s initial appearance as the “preeminent Shakespearean scholar”; with that tweedy jacket, round red spectacles, and bowtie the nod to Whovian pop-culture is greatly appreciated.

High-octane levels of camp, melodrama, and over-the-top theatrics pour forth from the bloody beating hearts of Brian Keith MacDonald, John Bellomo, and Johnny Weissgerber. The working relationship between this trio of performers is a strong one, the sense of trust and presence crafted among them enhances the experience tremendously as they work with one another to keep the show on its toes. When the trio “drops mad beats” for their brief brush through Othello, it’s the stuff of comic legend. Handling quick shifts, costume changes, and overall scenic handoffs with frightening fluidity, this dream-team of performers knows their stuff, especially when it comes to handling Shakespeare’s “comic diarrhea” (a direct quote from the script.) To put it another way, on the twelfth night of midsummer some absurd clowning goes down between the three of them and they end well with much ado.

Bellomo is the audience’s point of entry to the play. A big-mouthed, large-personality that’s kin to a carnival barker, he draws theatergoers into the premise with an enigmatic charm. While taking on far too many roles throughout the evening to name, his meathead jock-esque portrayal of Caesar immediately comes to mind of the funnier portrayals he gives. When engaging in sword play in the second act— which is devoted entirely to the greatest tragedy ever, a Danish omelet of the hammy variety— his “clink-clank” mouth-play is uproarious.

MacDonald, in addition to his Matt Smith tributary deliver of his opening dialogue, is quite the character consistently throughout the production. Noteworthy roles include the hilarious Highlands accent for his quick crack at Macbeth, and the seriously emo-angst loaded front roll as the Danish Prince. MacDonald milks his meltdown moment over the infamous “to be or not to be” speech in the second act and his melodramatic flare could signal the coast guard from miles away. Rolling through Hamlet at double and triple speed, and then again in reverse, MacDonald leads the fellas through a laugh-factory tour of the tragedy turned hijinks for the show’s back end.

Weissgerber becomes a scene stealing menace, which only adds to the comedy happening in heaps throughout the performance. Between his perpetual puking— a bit which can be chucked up to bad scripting and great improv technique— and his ridiculous turns with bad wigs every time he takes on a female character, Weissgerber has impeccable comic timing and a keen understanding of how to antagonize an audience into laughter. Despite the play’s interminable laughing tracks, the one solid moment of redeeming reverence comes from Weissgerber’s poetic and heartfelt emotional delivery of the “what a piece of work is man” monologue. Don’t be dismayed by this notion, however, as Weissgerber is the crowned prince of clowns for the rest of the show on either side of this striking moment.

Guaranteed to torture your funny bone until it gives way and splits under the pressure of this hilarious evening of sheer shenanigans, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare…Abridged as handled by The Annapolis Shakespeare Company for Comedy in the Courtyard is delightful. Don’t miss a rare opportunity to be tickled by Shakespeare and all of his works in one quick-shot evening of hearty humor.

Running Time: Approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes with one intermission

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare…Abridged plays Tuesday nights at 7:30pm through September 27, 2016 with The Annapolis Shakespeare Company as a part of the Comedy in the Courtyard series hosted in the Reynolds Tavern Courtyard— 7 Church Circle in Annapolis, MD. For tickets call the box office at (410) 415-3513 or purchase them online.

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