I really wanted to be a lot more amused by The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged) than I was. Some of the bits were clever, and the three appealing actors -- Keith Hershman, C.J. Hosier and Eric Mather -- worked so damn hard. Sadly, the audience was tiny on the night I attended, and I kept thinking I should urge Westword readers to go, too. Empty theaters hurt my heart, and this might be a pretty good evening for young people out on a date, especially after a few beers.
Compleat Works has been knocking around for several years. I saw it in London some time ago. I don't remember much about that production, except that it was the kind of thing you'd expect from precocious undergraduates, and it was mildly enjoyable but not anything I'd go out of my way to recommend. The play whips through the entire Shakespearean oeuvre in just over an hour and a half. There's a ten-minute Romeo and Juliet; a rap Othello; a high-speed condensation of all sixteen comedies; and, in one of the best conceits, a football game that sums up the histories during which a crown flies from player to player. The actors speak to us in the audience a lot about the difficulties of the task and each other's eccentricities. This is scripted, but there's room for improvisation. The entire second act is given over to Hamlet. An Ophelia is summoned from the audience; the rest of us are told we represent various aspects of her psyche, and we're instructed to chant, yell or sway as called for by the scene. Some of the evening's jokes really are cutting; others, like one actor's recurring need to vomit, seem juvenile.
C.J. Hosier has a clever, anxious face and does well as the ensemble member most determined to hold things together. The ebullient Keith Hershman jumps around a lot; a little subtlety and variation would have made his bits funnier. Eric Mather has all kinds of talent, and he moves well. I know The Compleat Works requires speed; a slow rendition would highlight the weak moments. But as Mather leapt from speech to speech and moment to moment -- hurling on a skirt and rubber breasts to play Juliet, hurling them off, racing across the stage full-tilt -- I kept wishing he would slow down and take an occasional breath. I would have liked to see him go more deeply into a particular scene or differentiate more among his characters (every female he played was essentially the same female). At one point, Mather speaks Hamlet's "What a piece of work is a man" quietly and with sincerity. This is a nice piece of playwriting, which effectively punctuates and underlines the prevailing nuttiness of the rest of the script, and for just a few moments it makes us understand how thrilling Shakespeare's language remains after all these centuries. Mather delivers the speech well. According to the program, he has an extensive background in improv. It would be nice to see what would happen if he decided to focus more on acting.
The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr
Phoenix Theatre, 1124 Santa Fe Drive
Presented by the Theatre
Through August 30
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