The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged). The Colorado Shakespeare Festival staged a pretty good version of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)
five years ago, so we're not sure why the CSF decided to bring it back this season. The show, written in 1987 by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, purports to deliver all of Shakespeare's plays in a single evening; the three hyperkinetic actors — Patrick Elkins-Zeglarski, Ian Andersen and Evan Zes — who perform this marvel of compaction even threaten to throw in the sonnets as well. The script leaves lots of room for byplay, improvisation and audience engagement, which means the actors' personal idiosyncrasies become a large part of the entertainment. The comedies are condensed into one narration that twines together all the plays' improbable plots, and each play is disposed of faster and more efficiently than the one before; the history plays become a football game with the crowd as football. A new version of Hamlettakes up the entire second act. There are moments that are close to inspired, as when the cast selects a woman from the audience to play Ophelia and then persuades the other audience members to portray her id, ego and superego by chanting and waving their hands. But really, there's not much here here. There are no incisive parodies, no attempts to mimic Shakespeare's verse or style, no pouncing on the actual absurdities in his plays — of which there are many. This isn't the kind of satire that arises from a real affection for the work, but the kind of humor you'd expect from a bunch of clever undergraduates studying for finals while chugging beer. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 17, University Theatre, University of Colorado at Boulder, 303-492-0554. coloradoshakes.org. Reviewed June 27.
Macbeth. With Nigel Gore — an actor who comes to Shakespeare with a lot of authority and a willingness to take all kinds of risks on stage — playing the lead, and advance publicity that alluded to guns, smoke, Afghanistan and gruesome death scenes, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival seemed to promise a thrilling Macbeth. What we got, however, is a production that occasionally hits the heights, but is respect-worthy rather than revelatory. Gore is a strong Macbeth who makes such famous speeches as "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" new again, reminding us of how conceptually daring they are. But if his performance is idiosyncratic and naturalistic, Liza de Weerd is a very theatrical Lady Macbeth, and while he frequently surprises, she gives almost every line the exact reading you'd expect. The production's Afghanistan setting contributes some interest and nuance — as when Lady Macbeth covers her face at the entrance of Duncan and his men but shows no such reticence once she's become queen. But the Russian soldiers who eventually appear are a distraction, taking the action away from a place that feels timeless and bringing it into recent history. Who are the Duncans in this scheme — Marxists? Mujahideen? There's strong acting in smaller roles, and the first act is cleaner and more powerful than the second. The apparition of a bloody babe that confronts Macbeth is handled with originality. And the deaths of Lady Macduff and her children are staged with a fierceness that should propel the entire production. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 10, Mary Rippon Theatre, University of Colorado at Boulder, 303-492-0554, coloradoshakes.org. Reviewed July 4.
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A Midsummer Night's Dream. The cast for A Midsummer Night's Dream, the first offering in this year's Colorado Shakespeare Festival, has many strengths. When did you last even notice who played First Fairy? Or Peter Quince? When the former is Nicole Bruce and the latter Greg West, you notice and remember. And all of the other performers provide moments of insight and pure delight. The wonderful thing is that while the people on stage are clearly enjoying themselves, nobody's self-absorbed, hamming it up or stepping on anyone else's toes, thanks to director Geoffrey Kent's terrific structure and pacing. Kent's approach to Shakespeare is respectfully disrespectful. He lets his actors improvise comic bits and mess with the text, as when Puck — who sports vivid new accoutrements almost every time he appears — asks an audience member if she likes his hat. But while there are all kinds of silly bits of business, the goofing never gets in the way of the dialogue. You can understand exactly what's being said and what each character is feeling, even as the four young lovers scream insults at each other and launch physical attacks. This Dream
is set in the 1920s. Director Geoffrey Kent chose the period because women were testing limits then and demanding their rights. So this Hermia (forbidden by her father to wed Lysander) and Helena (in love with Demetrius, who loves Hermia) are both as strong-willed as they are ridiculous in their moony-eyed search for love. Titania is pretty tough, too. Even as she squabbles with her king, Oberon, and makes a swoony ass of herself over Bottom, she's as secure in her right to rule the universe — or at least the English countryside — as the Queen of England herself, whether Victoria or (either) Elizabeth. Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 8, Mary Rippon Theatre, University of Colorado at Boulder, 303-492-0554, coloradoshakes.org. Reviewed June 13.