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Laugh hard at the Bard in Tacoma Little Theatre’s gag-a-minute “Complete Shakespeare Abridged (Revised)”

Post by Rosemary Ponnekanti / The News Tribune on Feb. 26, 2013 at 9:44 am |
February 26, 2013 9:59 am
From left: Yorick, Coleman Hagerman, Alex Smith, Luke Amundsen and Macbeth in Tacoma Little Theatre's "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) (revised)." PHoto: Jason Ganwich
From left: Yorick, Coleman Hagerman, Alex Smith, Luke Amundsen and Macbeth in Tacoma Little Theatre’s “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) (revised).” PHoto: Jason Ganwich

It’s every comedy actor’s dream – a show where you can do as many girly screams, fake vomiting, cheesy Scottish accents and penis jokes as you like, plus declaim Shakespeare’s most famous speeches all in one night. But “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) (revised)” also lets the audience do what they’ve always wanted – poke fun at the Bard’s silly or boring bits – and the version currently running at Tacoma Little Theatre doesn’t disappoint.

Created by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield in the 1980s, this hysterically funny parody aims to retell all of Shakespeare’s works in one two-hour show, and have a good laugh at everything from bad rhymes to melodramatic actors along the way. It has its flaws – the balance never works, with a longish condensed “Romeo and Juliet” followed by ever-shorter medleys of everything else and no less than four versions of “Hamlet” to finish – but it’s still hugely successful, and the TLT cast directed ably by Suzy Wilhoft have updated it to take in such 16th-century phenomena as cell phones, Google and “Downton Abbey” with very clever results.

This play lives or dies on its cast, and TLT has chosen a good one. Luke Amundsen (recently seen in Found Space’s “Zoo Story”) is the straight guy, the solid deadpan rock who anchors the manic craziness of TLT and Lakewood Playhouse regular Alex Smith, who takes on all the girl roles with hysterical glee. Playing the would-be scholar, a self-indulgent Hamlet and more is Coleman Hagerman (the Dodger in Lakewood’s “Oliver”) whose perfectly-timed delivery and wide-eyed goofiness belie his age (he’s a high school junior).

The three speed through the show with impeccable control of their audience. Smith turns Juliet into a Southern tart with a sharp eye for slapstick; Amundsen’s burly nurse with boobs flopping out is hilarious; Hagerman makes a superbly psychopathic cook in the “Titus Andronicus” cooking show. The rap version of Othello (cue the strobe lights, which feel a bit weird) is lacking some clarity and tries too hard to be tough, and the reduction of all the comedies to just one, read from music stands, is ironically dull. But the histories played as a football game and the ridiculously Scooooottish accents of “Macbeth” make up for it, and by the time you get to that strange part before intermission where two of the actors run out of the theater you’re well and truly hooked.

All that’s left, then, is “Hamlet,” and as it gets faster and sillier (and finally backwards, with the immortal Shakespearean ghost line “!ooB”) the audience is falling out of their seats.

Be warned: This isn’t a play for sissies. As the audience you get to be vomited on, scream and play Ophelia’s brain. And parents might want to take the 13-plus guideline seriously, unless you want to spend the night explaining double-entendres and words like “fellatio” (rhymes with “Horatio”, of course).

But whether you’re a Shakespeare expert or virgin, you’ll love TLT’s “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) (revised).” And trust me, you’ll never think of the Bard in the same way again.

7:30 p.m. March 1 and 2, 2 p.m. March 3. $10. Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N. I St., Tacoma. 253-272-2281, tacomalittletheatre.com

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