Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged

Theatre in the Grove brings Culture, 

Cacophony to Forest Grove

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

Don’t bother to read this review in its entirety before you navigate to Theatre in the Grove’s website to buy tickets to see “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).” Don’t waste your time worrying that Forest Grove is too far to go – it’s not THAT far, even if you live within spitting distance of the Multnomah County line. Don’t take a “wait and see” attitude – the show closes next weekend, so there are only three more performances. As a local firm of some international repute regularly advises, “Just do it.”

Imagine the best of the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, and Monty Python distilled into 97 minutes of wit, slapstick, cross-dressing, uplifting intellectualism, and unbridled mayhem, all directed rapid-fire at Shakespeare’s plays– all 38 of them. Some, of course, are given short shrift (Coriolanus, for example, is slighted because of an aversion to the final two syllables of the title). On the other hand, Romeo and Juliet gets comprehensive coverage, with loving attention paid to death scenes. Hamlet (the entirety of Act II) goes above and beyond – it is presented thrice (in increasingly abbreviated form) before the finale – where it is performed backwards (thus ensuring a happier ending!).  Perhaps most amazing is their synthesis of the entire catalogue of Shakespeare’s historical plays into a single scene of maniacal abandon.

This feat of theatrical sleight of hand is achieved by only three performers (aided and abetted by the audience and the long-suffering Bob the Dummy, who absorbs some of the deadliest blows). Adam Barrett, Zachary Centers, and Dan Cleveland use their considerable acting skills to play scores of roles, male, female, and ???  Under the nimble direction of Ken Centers, the three men form a cohesive unit, and their synergistic relationship forms a bizarre but captivating whole that is even stronger than the sum of its parts. The frantic pace is sustained through a combination of physical prowess, comic timing, and crisp, clear diction that keeps the audience in the loop throughout.

We have not seen a funnier show in years, and it wasn’t just us. At the performance we attended, everyone in the house laughed convulsively throughout the show, and the occasionally risqué humor was never offensive to anyone in the very diverse audience.

Our only criticism is with the final bows – the performers’ many quick-changes could not have been effected without the spot-on assistance of their three costume dressers, Brittney Spadey, Leslie Collins, and Alicia Barnett. These three hard-working ladies deserve a bit of the spotlight (provided, of course, by lighting wizard Berk Schwartz).

“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)”runs through Sunday, October 7th at the Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue, Forest Grove.

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