The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) – Review by Tim Leininger

If you’d like to get an introduction into Shakespeare’s works, or if you have already read his plays, a most enjoyable way to get a humorous synopsis of the entire collective is to go to Playhouse on Park in West Hartford to see “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged),” running through July 30.

This three-person show, written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield, starring Hannah Cheek, Sean Harris, and Rich Hollman, and directed by Tom Ridgely, is a funny romp through the Bard’s catalog.

One of the perks of the show is that it is written with the expectation of adaptation by the creative team that is producing it at any given time, and Ridgely embraces the concept wholeheartedly. There are plenty of in jokes throughout that would satisfy the locals and plenty of witty scripted humor that will satisfy the well-read fan of Shakespeare as well.

One of the major tasks of making the show work is the actors’ comprehension of the language and the themes within Shakespeare’s plays, particularly the more prominent ones that are dealt with. It would be easy just to play up the jokes and lose the sincerity that the show has, because it really does love Shakespeare, and provides a bit of insight into the plays and the man. Ridgely and the cast avoid this shortfall and have a clear understanding of the plays they are paying homage to through the silliness.
Some of the humor has transitioned a little due to the casting. Originally, the play was performed by three men, so some of the sexual humor doesn’t land the same way, particularly in the “Romeo and Juliet” scene, where originally it was two men playing the two star-crossed lovers. Here, Cheek plays Romeo and Hollman plays Juliet, causing the joke of one of the actors unwilling to kiss another man to be lost.

The trio has great chemistry together and is having a genuinely good time showing the audience in their own way the life and works of Shakespeare.

The play requires a quick wit and exceptional pacing in order to keep the audience invested and for the most part they succeed. In fact, at times, they actually rush it a little. The scene involving a conglomeration of Shakespeare’s comedies is a tad too quick, making it almost incomprehensible at times. On the flip side, the pacing for the run through the histories was perfect and easy to follow.

The second act features the play’s famously abridged “Hamlet,” not to be confused with Tom Stoppard’s “15 Minute Hamlet,” with Harris playing the tragic prince of Denmark and Cheek and Hollman juggling the other roles. Harris’ turn on the “To be, or not to be” speech is great and feels like it is directly inspired by Christopher Durang’s “An Actor’s Nightmare.”
Playhouse on Park again has wisely picked a great little comedy that fits perfectly into its cozy theater.

With three great cast members who have a firm grasp on the subject matter and the language, it creates a wonderful night of theater and maybe, if you have never read Shakespeare, or if you need motivation to re-read him, this should be a great bit of inspiration to pick up one of his plays and delve into the mind of arguably the greatest playwright of the English language.