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. 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.
Curtains. Near the beginning of Curtains, Jessica Cranshaw, the untalented and unpleasant star of Robbin' Hood — a musical within the musical — collapses during a rehearsal, clearly the victim of foul play. A young cop is called in to solve the murder, and the mystery unfolds in a manner familiar to all lovers of Agatha Christie and Inspector Poirot — which is fitting, since the action is set in 1959. Everyone is instructed to stay on site as Lieutenant Frank Cioffi considers the stories and backgrounds of one suspect after another. Almost all of the characters have a motive of some kind, and everybody hated Cranshaw. But there's a bit of a problem: Cioffi is also an amateur actor crazy in love with musicals. Sometimes, as the action unfolds with lots of singing, dancing and thunkingly silly jokes, it's hard to figure out whether he's motivated more by a desire to solve the crime or to fix the many shortcomings of Robbin' Hood. And there's no question at all about his growing interest in pretty ingenue Niki. The murder mystery provides a thin but entertaining plot line, but at its heart, the show is a tribute to musical theater. The songs, skillfully choreographed by Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck, pay sly tribute to all kinds of musical-comedy styles
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And there'sa gorgeous Rogers and Astaire-style duet, "A Tough Act to Follow," performed by Erica Sweany as Niki and Jim Poulos's light-footed Cioffi that provides pure and dizzy pleasure. Presented by the Arvada Center through July 28, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, 720-898-7200, arvadacenter.org. Reviewed July 18.
17 Border Crossings. The plight of Edward Snowden — still holed up at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport at press time — illustrates the Kafkaesque nature of national borders. He is in a transit area, which represents neutral territory. He's not in Russia, but he's not actually out of Russia, either. He's in limbo. The kind of room Snowden presumably inhabits plays a large role in Thaddeus Phillips's brilliant and evocative 17 Border Crossings, a series of monologues based on his own extensive travels. Some of these stories last only a few seconds and some are longer; some are funny, others frightening or deeply sad. An idiosyncratic traveler who disabled the RFID (radio-frequency identification) chip in his passport, traveled to Cuba when that was forbidden and visited Arab-speaking countries, Phillips often found himself in one of these airport rooms. His piece makes us understand — among many other things — just how terrifying they are. Phillips gives us a brief history of passports, beginning with the St. Crispin's Day speech from Shakespeare's Henry V and ending with a description of today's biometric passports. He describes strange rides in deserted trains. He notes that Israel has the most beautiful border guards in the world. By contrast, crossing to Jordan, he realizes the entire country is guarded by a single man asleep in a chair in the middle of the desert. Phillips, an internationally acclaimed performer who makes frequent stops at Buntport, comes across as a kind of everyman — a little guy, shrewd, humorous and ironic, stumbling through puzzling events and drawing fresh inferences from them. None of his anecdotes is overtly political, but there's a stronger sense of menace and sadness in 17 Border Crossings than in his previous work. Almost every story coruscates with significance. Presented by Lucidity Suitcase International through July 27 at Buntport Theater Company, 717 Lipan Street, 720-946-1388, buntport.com, luciditysuitcase.org. Reviewed July 18.