There’s a lot to be said for “getting it while it’s hot.” That’s when the product is at its freshest, its most desirable. Factor in exclusivity, originality and hype, and damn near everybody wants to get his hands on it. Yet inevitably, supply flows more freely and, as those folks finally get their hands on “It,” the trend’s suddenly showing up everywhere and it’s time to move on to the next big thing.
The theater world often falls prey to the fickle wiles of trendiness. There’s always a hot ticket in town, and some shows persevere and reach a certain untouchable status. “Cats” had a tremendously long, ever-popular run despite really having no story. On the other hand, others burn out as quickly as they flare up. The excitement over “Rent,” a fairly recent “It” show, spread like wildfire, but even many early junkies of the show passed on seeing the movie version. Much of that can be attributed to timelessness. So what happens when one stocks Shakespeare, the very definition of timeless, chock-full of modern-day references?
“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged),” written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, attempts that challenging feat. Unlike recent movies that conceptualize Shakespeare by placing the action in a different era while keeping the play intact, this show fast-forwards through the plays, hitting the highlights of every single one that Shakespeare wrote, managing to work contemporary commentary in at every turn, all accomplished within two hours.
The problem with doing so is obvious — the play must continuously be updated or the references become obsolete. The “It” show also works best when it’s right off the presses, because then it has what the current production at The Frazier International History Museum lacks: a brand-new, never-before-seen concept that feels more like improvisation.
The show is funnier when it sticks to re-enacting the plays. There’s a Scarlett O’Hara-esque Juliet, a rapping version of “Othello,” and all of Shakespeare’s comedies lumped together and read like romance or pulp fiction. Especially inspired are the history plays imagined as a football game. Jeremy P. White is the cast standout, having several nice moments as Juliet and Ophelia.
What fails miserably are the skits that lace the show together. Rehearsed jokes have to seem off-the-cuff, or they fall flat. Perhaps naturally comedic actors could pull off this aspect of the show, but in this production, the jokes are cringe-worthy. I kept hearing “ba-dum-DUM” in my head, although the large audience generally seemed pleased.
There are a few sexual references and a little such language in the play, but if that doesn’t bother parents, I heartily recommend this show for younger audiences, who’ll catch most of the gags. In fact, the show should go strongly in one direction or the other: wittier and less obvious, or sillier with even more audience participation. This show divided really can’t stand, and this production just wasn’t hot enough for me.