By Olga A. Pilkington
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) is a hilarious adaptation of the Bard’s thirty-seven plays presented with even more hilarious scholarly commentaries by the author of “I Love My Willy” and “one of America’s preeminent Shakespearean scholars” who while at the University of California at Berkeley “read two books about William Shakespeare” (Long, Singer, Winfield, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [New York: Applause, 1987], 8). Watching this play is perhaps similar to flipping channels on a Saturday night—one minute it’s a melodrama, the next a history program followed by a cooking show, and finally, nothing like a good game of football to complete the evening. John Lariviere claims that this play is capable of “turning an evening of Shakespeare into something out of Saturday Night Live” (http://www.talkinbroadway.com/regional/sfla/sfla219.html, March 26, 2009).
The play will delight everyone—those audience members who barely know who Shakespeare is and which state he is from (Utah, of course) and those who have committed to memory every line the Bard ever wrote. The audience members will walk away from the theatre having discovered such truths as, “Comedies aren’t half as funny as the tragedies” (Long, Singer, Winfield, 36) or Shakespeare “dictated to his secretary, Rudolf Hess, the work Mein Kampf (12) and followed that up with a play on the effects of nuclear energy on the Soviet Union—“Chernobyl Kinsmen” (39).
While The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) is full of slapstick comedy and bawdy jokes in the worst traditions of Shakespeare himself, it also points out some amusing facts about the Bard’s writings which even real scholars will be able to laugh about. The Complete Works discusses how Shakespeare “‘distilled’ the three or four funniest gimmicks of his time, and milked them into sixteen plays” (33). The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) promptly corrects Shakespeare’s wordiness by taking “the liberty of condensing all sixteen of Shakespeare’s comedies into a single play” (33). And, of course, what discussion of the Bard’s genius can bypass the authorship question? The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) offers its own “groundbreaking” theory (41).
The play also delves into the depths of Hamlet. After watching The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), the audience will develop doubts about whether or not this is really the longest of Shakespeare’s plays. After all, The Complete Works presents Hamlet not once, not twice, but three times.
In addition to this, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) “ is notable for holding the (self-proclaimed) world record for the shortest-ever performance of Hamlet, clocking in at 43 seconds” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ The_Complete_Works_of_William_Shakespeare_(abridged)March 26, 2009).
Some might be surprised to find out that The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) was first performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company. However, it was not the Royal Shakespeare Company that originated the show. Reduced Shakespeare Company’s founder, Daniel Singer, wrote the play. The company describes itself as “a three-man comedy troupe known for taking long, serious subjects and reducing them into short, sharp comedies” (http://www.reducedshakespeare.com/). In fact, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) was Reduced Shakespeare Company’s first show.
The ninety-seven minute show began with a 1981 twenty-five minute version of Hamlet written by Singer. The show premiered at a California Renaissance fair but wasn’t a success until “Three weeks into the run of the production . . . one of the actresses broke her ankle. It was after she was replaced with a man in drag named Adam Long that the show developed a large following” (Lariviere).
Riding on the wave of success, Daniel Singer and Adam Long penned another twenty-five minute Shakespeare—this time, Romeo and Juliet. Both their abridgements delighted audiences at Renaissance fairs across the country, and the authors decided it was time to shoot for the stars. In 1987, Singer and Long “decided to take their act to the famous Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland” (Lariviere). However, as John Lariviere points out, Adam Long and Daniel Singer needed a longer running show and “proposed doing Shakespeare's other thirty-five plays to round out an abridgement of everything the Bard wrote in less than one hour. The play proved a great success. After Edinburgh, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) appeared in London at the Arts Theatre in 1992 and at the Criterion Theater in the West End in 1996, where it “ran for nine record-breaking years” (Lariviere). In 1991, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) first premiered off-Broadway as part of the “international arts festival” (Bruckner, http://theater2.nytimes.com, March 26, 2009). It has had two revivals since, the first one in 1995 and the second one in 2001. Along with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), Reduced Shakespeare Company also staged The Complete History of America (abridged) and The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) among other shows. These three shows “were London’s longest-running comedies, and the RSC had more shows running in the West End than Andrew Lloyd Webber” (http://www.reducedshakespeare.com/bio-rsc.php, March 26, 2009).
In 2000, Acorn Media produced a movie version of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) starring Daniel Singer and Adam Long. However, a movie will never be able to compete with a stage production of The Complete Works since, as Singer, Long, and Winfield point out, “The show was developed through improvisation” and still owes its success to the actors’ ability to “respond honestly to audience’s performance, and their own, rather than stick blindly to the written text” (6). Yes, the audience is a big part of the production. The members are to participate in the action, and one lucky theater-goer will get a chance to workshop his or her acting skills. There will be no plants!
Needless to say, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) will be a memorable and exuberant experience. It will change the audience’s view of the Bard and his immortal works. Many scholars have suggested that Shakespeare’s writings are contemporary and relevant even in the twenty first century, but there is only one play that illustrates this point with such neon colors—The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield. Shakespeare is forever, and this show proves it.