Santa Rosa Players shortchange Shakespeare
By Daedalus Howell
THE SANTA ROSA Players' production of The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspre (Abridged) is like a bad date on which one still miraculously manages to get laid. It's all about the last 15 minutes.
The three-player cast (Cheri Dumay, Jon Vissman, and David Templeton, who is a freelance writer for the Sonoma County Independent) shoots through a distilled, extremely silly version of Shakespeare's canon at breakneck speed while deploying a barrage of slapstick numbers.
The shtick-filled script, written by Daniel Singer, Adam Long, and Jess Borgenson with liberal smatterings of Shakespeare's original text, has some flaws, though it has worked well for other companies.
But in this production, directed by Carl Hamilton, the premise is more interesting than its execution. In part that's because the actors careen through text after text at a desperately fast pace. The trio often speak so quickly that they're hard to understand. Moreover, the cast leans toward a hard delivery, perhaps hoping that a big voice would deliver big laughs. Usually, though, subtlety would have been more appropriate.
The breakneck pace slows down a bit to an enjoyable speed when the tumbling troika launches into an abbreviated Hamlet. The players first do the Dane abridged and then perform a second, faster version, followed by a incredibly brief third version. Finally, they perform Hamlet backward, proving that "bard" spelled backward isn't always "drab."
After the dopey shtick of the first act, this payoff is profoundly satisfying. Unfortunately, many audience members in opening night's half-capacity house will never know this because they exited during the intermission. Those with a heartier constitution, however, received these last-minute high jinks with roaring laughter.
Highlights include Templeton's bombastic tirades (which often reach deafening volumes) and his comic turn as a kvetching actor qua Hamlet who becomes overwhelmed with his "To be or not to be" speech and descends into a fractured monologue about making guacamole for dinner guests.
Dumay and Vissman are humorous in a gender-bent redux of the famed balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet. Oddly, one will be reminded of Shakespeare's own parody of this material in the "Pyramus and Thisbe" sequence in his A Midsummer's Night's Dream-- which is far superior.
The production takes a misstep with a Grand Guignolesque scene that reimagines Titus Andronicus as a Julia Child cooking show, complete with flowing blood and a sign-off in which two recent amputees try to high-five but miss on account of their fresh stumps (the audience diminished somewhat during this scene).
Not to wax too politically correct, but the script's call to have Othello performed as a rap ditty (the all-white cast dons ski caps and sunglasses) eerily reminds us that Shakespeare and contemporary culture have very different definitions of the term "minstrel show."
The show's most entertaining moment comes when the players ask audience members to help execute Ophelia's final exit in Hamlet. The scene offers a Freudian deconstruction that requires one audience member to represent the character's ego by repeatedly running up the set, while other playgoers chant various mantras.
What really redeems The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspre is the fact that kids really seem to dig it--all the pratfalls and inanity amount to a stage idiom not unlike a cartoon. The production draws constant giggles from the preteen set. Indeed--aside from its often suggestive language and situations--this show may prove a wonderful on-ramp to get kids into Shakespeare's daunting oeuvre. Otherwise, theatergoers may want to prune this engagement from their calendars.
'The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspre (Abridged)' plays at 8 p.m. on April 7-8 and 13-15, and at 2 p.m. on April 9 and 16 at the Lincoln Arts Center, 709 Davis St., Santa Rosa. $11-$13. 544-7827.
From the April 6-12, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.
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