The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
nytheatre.com review by Kristin Skye Hoffmann
April 24, 2008
The Sackett Group's production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is, to quote the play, "hardly crap at all." In a venue reminiscent of the Middle School Auditoriums of yore, complete with ancient looking iron light fixtures hanging from the ceiling and rigid wooden fold out seats, their space perfectly sets this mad, seemingly improvisational stooges-like comedy.
The production is performed by three clearly talented young men playing every role in Shakespeare's canon. Nicholas Cobey plays the clueless one, but has one very nice, honest moment in the second act while performing the Hamlet portion of the show. Dov Lebowitz-Nowak and Glenn De Kler team up to guide him, and the rest of the audience, through their attempt at exposing us to the beauty that is Shakespeare. Interestingly enough, this task involves insulting him directly numerous times as well as pointing out all the enormous flaws that pepper Mr. Shakespeare's body of work. Yet they do it with love. Lebowitz-Nowak has an excellent presence throughout and struck a high note for me while portraying "Titus Androgynous" (not a typo...) when he attempted a high-five with his handless daughter, Lavinia, portrayed by Cobey (as are all the female roles throughout.) De Kler demonstrates the widest range of characters with a lovely diversity and seems to enjoy every minute of it. If you're looking for "dry, vomitless Shakespeare," look somewhere else.
The trio takes us along with them as they haphazardly figure out the whole show in front of us. The costumes, designed by Claire Aquila, and set, designed by John C. Scheffler, compliment this theme very well creating an inescapable sense that they threw the show together simply because people were stopping by. The feeling is oddly appropriate for the show. Unfortunately, I never quite bought it.
Some say comedy is the most difficult part of theatre. Nailing the timing, pacing, and silences is an art form that stems from mastering the text, and in live theatre, you only get one try. This show is not quite there. It should be mentioned that there is A LOT to do in this show. Clearly portraying 37 plays is a difficult task no matter what, and doing it funny? And with only 3 people?! Now there is a feat. The key to comedy, like all acting, is honesty. These boys are putting on a show for us...all the time. Even when they are playing the "straight, real guy" moments, they are still "acting" for us. Possibly with a little more structure from director Corrine J. Slagle, it would flow a bit more. The performers frequently fly by the seat of their pants and therefore over-compensate in places that could have been funnier with more subtlety. The audience will be won over more and much sooner with less.
This is not to say that they ignore the audience! Far from it. The audience is as much a part of the show as the actors themselves. If you don't like being singled out or pulled on stage, this is not the show for you. I can sum it up with this: at one point, I was taken hostage.Fortunately, the script is solid, the actors have flawless, unrelenting energy and the love of the work they are doing is contagious. The background moments, i.e. Hamlet kicking poor Yorick's skull off stage in frustration due to lack of attention, are the gems of this production. Watching the trio interact with one another induced a feeling of being entertained in my living room; and I'm always a sucker for a beverage-in-the-face bit. Hopefully, throughout the length of the run, they will settle into the performances they've created and trust that they don't have to push so hard to win us over. They had us at "good morrow."