I’ve seen The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) so many times that its hilarity has worn very thin. First produced in 1987, the show features three guys joking their way through goofy recreations of (and tangential references to) Shakespeare’s 37 plays in less than two hours. If you’ve seen it repeatedly, the supposed spontaneity loses its charm. Earlier this year, I learned that Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, the original members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company who created the show, had updated their script with “an opening with even more ridiculous scholarly pomposity than the previous edition” and “references to pop culture and the use of modern technology such as smart phones and the Wikipedia page for Shakespeare.”
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s current production is the new version’s regional premiere, and it’s much fresher. What’s more, instead of simply clowning around, the 2011 cast of Billy Chace, Justin McCombs and Brian Isaac Phillips truly throw themselves into the comedy, using acting skills usually reserved for more polished work. Chace is the purveyor of “scholarly pomposity” as well as a frenetic Hamlet in the zany second-act recreation of that great tragedy. McCombs, wearing countless wigs, brings manic wit and physical humor to many of Shakespeare’s women. Phillips tries to keep things under control, an appropriate role since he’s CSC’s artistic director, but here it’s humorously just beyond his reach. (The show’s director is “Alan Smithee,” the pseudonym used by film directors who wish to disown a project.)
Shakespeare’s solemn portrait on the back wall is about the only serious element of the show, and that’s how Complete Works should be. In 17 seasons, CSC has worked its way through almost all the Bard’s plays. You can take a shortcut with this 97-minute reminder — and have some great laughs along the way.
THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED), presented by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, continues through June 26. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.