Even if you “don’t know Shakespeare from Shinola,” you are sure to get a kick out of “The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkespre, abridged” as three funny actors wearing tennis shoes whip through 30-some works of The Bard in a couple of hours.
It’s off-the-wall slapstick as the trio rushes in and out of doors, changing costumes and genders as they joke and argue with each other. Jack Grigoli, Kevin Harris and Bob Peterson are a hoot. The piece was originally written by Jess Borgeson, Adam Long and Daniel Singer, but these actors have made it their own.
Racing through the action, the guys are like Monty Python on steroids, and like Monty Python, each one has a unique personality, and their interaction is a big component of the comedy as they bait and berate one another. There’s a lot of physical comedy, with pratfalls, dancing and comic posturing, as well as funny visual moments. Drew Silvaggio is choreographer.
Grigoli is tall and lithe and looks great in drag as he dons long gowns and different colored wigs to become blonde Juliet, brunette Cleopatra and redhead Ophelia. Peterson tries to be the serious one, narrating sometimes and trying to direct the other two, who refuse to be directed. Harris turns character roles such as a witch, a humpback and a fortuneteller into comical caricatures.
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Harris, who is artistic director of the SLO Little Theatre, and Grigoli, who now lives in Southern California, have done this show together before.
The set, designed by David Linfield, is made up of three draped doorways and a stage with outlines of bodies drawn on the floor in the style of a crime scene. This is where the characters in Shakespeare’s tragedies collapse to die, trying to fit into the shapes on the floor.
There are two screens on the sidewalls above the stage. At first they project, in comic fashion, the celebration of San Luis Obispo’s Little Theatre’s 65th anniversary, but later they are used in an amazing original highlight of the show that cracks up the audience.
This is a difficult production to review because saying too much about it would spoil the comic surprises, which include such things as break dancing, air guitar, texting, hand puppets, a remote-controlled Hummer, and a new definition of “octomom.” At one point, the audience is involved to portray Ophelia’s ego, id and superego. It’s also a problem that the jokes don’t seem funny on paper— most of the laughs come from the personalities of the actors.
To say the show covers all the plays is a stretch, as the guys focus on the tragedies, condensing the comedies into one long, crazy title and hilarious summation, noting that the comedies all have similar themes, including identical twins and women disguised as men. They claim that the comedies aren’t half as funny as the tragedies.
The tragedies begin with “Romeo and Juliet.” “Titus Andronicus” becomes a cannibalistic cooking show; “Othello” a rap story; “Macbeth is done in kilts and bad Scottish accents; “Julius Caesar” and “Antony and Cleopatra” are described as “geopolitical works.”
The histories — all named for kings — are turned into a football game. The entire second act is devoted to “Hamlet,” long and short version, and an even faster one done backward (the ghost says, “OOB”).
The actors wear ruffled white shirts and black knickers with their tennis shoes, donning vests, wigs, crowns and other appropriate attire for each scene. Sharon Hamish is costume designer.
This is a theater piece that requires exceptional comic acting and timing to make it truly funny, as opposed to simply silly. To give the show more than one comic dimension, the actors have to be able to create their own characters, as well as to run with the characters in the plays.
These guys have it down, and their own fun is contagious.