What ho, Horatio! It is the east— west— Frederick! It is the MET! Alas, poor Shakespeare, I knew him, readers! And you thought you did too, until you ventured to Maryland Ensemble Theatre for the opening of their 2017/2018 season! With preeminence in stage chicanery, the MET invites you to sit back, unplug your brains, and enjoy three ridiculous men attempting to cover 38 plays, 1,122 roles, and 154 sonnets all in about two hours, or less. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) will give you everything you need to know, see, understand, and laugh about when it comes to understanding the Bard and his lengthy canon. Directed by Tad Janes, this zany, in-your-face show will enlighten you in way that even Shakespeare himself wouldn’t begin to poeticize. Tally ho, here we go!
If you think you know Shakespeare, or the MET, think again! Not only does this brand new season have a thrilling show line-up, but it has reinvented the intimate stage layout of the mainstage space. Director Tad Janes puts his creativity together in fabricating a more traditional proscenium stage, with three-quarter thrust seating, virtually eliminating the obstructed-view, load-bearing support poles from the audience. (They’re still there, so the roof won’t come down upon the stage, but they’re no longer obstructing views!) Janes gets together with Scenic Designer Cecelia Lee and creates a Shakespearean likeness for the falsely fronted proscenium arch, which is lit by the talented Doug Grove, and features enormous glowing (and later light-blinking) skulls on either side of the upper corners. The overall layout is polished and lends itself to the goofiness of the script, allowing the three actors to “play on a stage” which heightens the meta element of the show. Grove also finds the solitary moment of sincerity in the performance and lights it in a sublime and understated blue, separating it from all of the other shenanigans happening throughout the play.
Props to the Mistress of Props, Donna Quesada, because in a show like Complete Works, where things are happening on the fly (or at least are giving the appearance of happening as such, we all know the countless hours of meticulous rehearsal that goes into this high-octane pieces where comedic pacing and delivery can mean life or death to the show), props become critical to land a laugh or make a bit make sense. Quesada enhances the show and makes sure all of the gags are lived to their humorous potential with things like the itty-bitty retractable knife, Yorick’s Skull, and the human-head pie. Whilst slinging props (of the congratulatory nature) around, the unsung hero award of the show goes to Mari Barchi and Morgan Southwell, the dressers. Though you’ll never see these two on the stage, they are responsible for the quick costumes changes happening backstage; they are a highly specialized key component of operational unity, and ultimately the success of three actors playing dozens of characters in quick succession lies on their shoulders. Barchi and Southwell, we do not bite our thumbs at you, but rather bow and grovel at your lightning-like abilities to strip quick, and re-dress quicker.
Of course, without a smart costume designer, Barchi and Southwell are out of a job, and our three actors are out on stage naked. And that’s a completely different type of show all together! Costume Designer Julie Herber keeps Barchi and Southwell gainfully employed and ensures that the trio of Shakespearean Sillies are well covered. Creating iconic and hilarious looks for characters like Caesar, Juliet, King Claudius, and too many others to name, Herber provides an excellent assortment of intentionally poor-taste wigs, delightfully stereotypical garb, and an overall hilarious sartorial selection throughout the evening, including balloon pants and the show’s iconic red Converse sneakers.
The show is funny, Director Tad Janes does an exceptional job of working with the ensemble of performers— Thom Huenger, Jeremy Myers, and Daniel Valentín-Morales— to include localized and personalized references throughout the script, lending itself to the locals and subscribers of the MET. This is a script which lends itself to that sort of improvisation and Janes’ work with the trio is impressive as they hone in on lots of Frederick nuances and insider MET-style jokes. The pacing is a bit off in places, though it’s hard to say exactly where, as it’s not the transitions or costume swaps holding the production up. There is something— occasionally as a scene is coming to a close or just getting underway— that feels off-kilter and out of sync with the rest of the production. This leads to awkward hiccups in the overall pacing, which could be considered the show’s only flaw.
Thom Huenger, Jeremy Myers, and Daniel Valentín-Morales: actors, comedians, and all-round ridiculously comedic individuals, have taken to playing through this script with true humorous heart. They are themselves, as the script calls for, but they align to the notion of being preeminent Shakespearean scholars with rigorous aplomb, desperately hoping to flimflam the audience into buying what they’re selling when it comes to the Bard. The trio plays well off one another, making the show a true ensemble piece and a good fit for the opening production of the MET’s 2017/2018 season. When they roll through the histories, treated like an NFL sports team wherein the Tudor crown is the football, they have a keen understanding of how they each fit into the choreography and overall spacing of the scene. This is true during the ultimate Hamlet, a showdown of the Bard’s most iconic tragedy, near the show’s conclusion.
Huenger, who starts off as the introductory character, has a great many roles throughout that will make you laugh. Valentín-Morales isn’t afraid to get in your face in the audience either, going right up to people and engaging away with them as if they were a part of the show all along. But Meyers takes the cake, steals the thunder, and eats the lightning too with all of his antics and carryings on. Electro-charged on some super-human enthusiasm (Coffee? Sugar?) that roars through the show inspiring the other two players as well as the audience to live on the same excitement shelf as he does, Meyers is a real scream, rolling through a great deal of the female roles and making them ridiculous. Wound up and losing his mind when it comes time for Hamlet, and carrying that same energy into his performance as Ophelia, there is nothing but praises to be said about him. He even carries off the moment of truth in the show flawlessly, delivering the one sincere soliloquy with reverence and grace. A remarkable performer, Meyers is the glue in the group, the binding mayonnaise of this Shakespearean ham sandwich, where Valentín-Morales and Huenger take turns being the ham and cheese.
So go forth and laugh! Laugh all the way up to Frederick and hit up The Maryland Ensemble Theatre for a great evening of entertainment at an even greater price! You get all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays for the cost of just one regular MET mainstage show ticket! May the Bard be with you, always.
Running Time: Approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes with one intermission
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) plays through October 1, 2017 on the Main Stage of the Maryland Ensemble Theatre in the Historic FSK Hotel building— 31 W. Patrick street in downtown historic Frederick, MD. For tickets call the box office at (301) 694-4744 or purchase them online.