REVIEW: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

You don’t have to love Shakespeare to enjoy THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED).  You don’t even really have to know much about the Bard’s canon of work.  It makes some of the jokes funnier, of course, but there is enough slapstick, contemporary references, and built-in funny that this night at the theatre is well worth the price of admission.  I attended the final preview; I’m confident that things will change. It’s the kind of show that can be different each night depending on the audience, the cast’s mood, and the pace of the punchlines.

I took a friend who is a casual theatre-goer and only high-school educated about Shakespeare.  During intermission, she was looking at future show times so she could come back with her husband.  “This is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen,” she told me.

I think a lot of people who see Justin McCombs for the first time have that reaction.  He’s naturally gifted, a modern day Charlie Chaplin, but with the sincerity of Tom Hanks.  Surrounded by the equally gifted Miranda McGee and funnier-than-I-thought-he’d-be Geoffrey Warren Barnes, McCombs doesn’t have to try to hard to entertain.  (It’s when the cast does try that the show is at its weakest, by the way.)

McCombs, like he does in EVERY CHRISTMAS STORY EVER TOLD, shows off his range with a serious monologue from Hamlet that had the woman behind me “amen-ing” like we were in some sort of Shakespeare church service.  Barnes delivers a Martin Luther King inspired monologue that also had people raising hands and saying hallelujah.  My favorite, though, is watching McGee maintain her poise with a slight smirk on her face at the chaos created around her by her co-stars.  She’s got snark in all the right places but also genuinely looks like she’s having fun.  It’s infectious.

I saw a production of this show at Cincy Shake’s previous home with McCombs (and Nicholas Rose and Jeremy Dubin).  This new version is an upgrade in many ways; the set by Shannon Moore is fun, full of oversized tomes of the plays sped through during the show.  Denise Vulhop Watkins madcap costumes set the tone for some Elizabethan style clowning.  Lights (Justen N. Locke) and sound (Douglas J. Borntrager) accentuate the comedy.  Whoever designed the oversized banners that appear throughout the play did a great job, too.  Director Sara Clark Rose pulls together a creative vision that is strong and gives this show a unique flavor.

The show, at least the night I saw it, runs on the long side.  Again I saw a preview so my quibble with the two-hour run time will probably correct itself as the cast figures out when the laughs come and if they speed up some of the overly long gags, especially coming in and out of intermission (though McGee’s improv-esque work is hysterical.)

Regardless of any criticism, its my recommendation that you see this solid production of what has become a modern-day standard for classical theatres.  After all, they’re having fun with their bread and butter – and who knows it better than this fine company?

THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED) runs through August 11th at Cincinnati Shakespeare Theatre.  Click here for tickets and more information.