The Reduced Shakespeare Company:
The Complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged)
(Acorn Media, 2001)

William Shakespeare was one writer who knew his target audience. Despite a reputation among today's high school students as highbrow and incomprehensible, the Bard truly had a gift for witty comedic characters, fast action sequences involving sharp pointy objects and enough naughty bits to keep all of his spectators entranced -- or at least attentive enough to enjoy the bawdy puns.

Shakespeare would love The Reduced Shakespeare Company's video of their stage play, The Complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged). The performance, taped in London, condenses 37 of (mostly) the world's greatest scripts into 90 frenetic minutes of comedic characters, sharp pointy objects and naughty bits. All the good stuff, and a few poignant moments here and there in what one of my friends affectionately calls "Hurry Up Shakespeare."

The introductory sequence presents each the three actors of company: Reed Martin, Austin Tichenor and Adam Long as a flight attendant, literature evangelist and rather inept biographer. But the real fun begins with the performance of the ultimate tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. Tichenor narrates in original iambic rhymes, while Long and Martin saunter, prance and vomit through all of the relevant roles. Pay special attention to the nurse's costume and watch for the anti-drug message.

The subsequent Titus Andronicus "bamming" cooking show and the rapping Othello prove the first tragedy was no fluke. The fantasy football game of historic royalty is another highlight. The consolidation of the many comedies (as they were pretty much the same basic four plots regurgitated over and over again anyway) is probably the least humorous segment -- because "quite frankly," as they say, "the tragedies are funnier."

The second act opens with accordion playing, but don't hold that against them. It fits the tune -- leading into a reluctant and zany performance of Hamlet, complete with an acting workshop of Ophelia's motivation and lustful sock puppets.

The three performers seem to be improvising and loving every minute of performing, thanks to an amazingly witty script by Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield. Tichenor manages to bring depth to his parody of Hamlet and portrays the scholarly semi-expert on Shakespeare, who's read TWO entire books. Long whines in Woody Allen fashion about his roles, his education and his need to wear bad wigs and droopy dresses. Martin's varied roles delight, and he reveals unexpected talents during the pre-intermission.

The Reduced Shakespeare Company's The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) is a must-have addition to the collection of any Shakespeare fan -- with a sense of humor. For those Shakespeare novices seeking an educational experience, this tape might help with the basic plot of a few of the plays, but, be warned, you'll be laughing too hard to take notes.

[ by Julie Bowerman ]
Rambles: 13 April 2002

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