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[whitespace] The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
Speed Acting: Three actors tackle Shakespeare's works--all of them--at City Lights Theater Company.

Bard on the Run

City Lights crams all of Shakespeare into a night of hilarity

By Michael J. Vaughn

FOLLOWING, City Lights Theater Company's The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), abridged: Shakespeare didn't write Hamlet--it was a Mel Gibson movie ... Titus Andronicus as a cooking show ... I Love My Willy! ... And where, in a scene of timeless romance, he'll try to get into Juliet's pants ... Sometime before Florida makes up its mind! ... Fullback, quarterback, hunchback ... Troilus Potter and the Goblet of Fire ... Othello as Popeye ... You broke our actor! ... Claudius Clinton ("Methinks the lady doth protest too much, if you know what I mean") ... I am omelet, the cheese Danish!

Um, well, you get the idea. Compression can be fun. And you don't even need a deep knowledge of Shakespeare to enjoy it--though you may need an oxygen tank so you don't die laughing. Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield's marvelous creation--a 26-mile sprint through the Bard's 37 plays--is back from last year's City Lights production, and the results are somewhat indescribable.

The mighty thespian trio of Tom Gough (the wily guy), Derek McCaw (the snobby guy) and Ed Meehan (the big dumb guy) basically play three actors who don't know quite what they've gotten into when they promise to deliver Shakespeare in toto in a little over two hours. The show plays pretty much as a kind of athletic competition (aided by the actors' kneepads and athletic shoes) and provides a lot of room for improv. It also allows for audience participation, including a passage where they drag someone out of the seats to play a screaming Ophelia as the audience provides a motivational background of id, ego and superego cheers.

Unless you are truly cold-blooded, the evening will likely provide a couple of moments that will induce uncontrollable paroxysms of laughter. Mine arrived when Ed, playing Juliet in the double-suicide scene, pulls an overly small dagger from the dead Romeo's boot. "That's Romeo for you," he/she says, eyeing the miniscule weapon. Then, discovering to his utter delight that it's one of those trick knives where the blade slides safely away into the handle, Ed/Juliet proceeds to commit a self-skewering something like Madame Butterfly times 10, finishing off with a good, healthy poke in the eye.

As long as one doesn't mind the occasional swear word or double entendre, the show is a great way for parents to expose teenagers to Shakespeare. Despite all the inspired buffoonery, the Bard's phenomenal use of language can't help but get through, and occasional, surprising moments of reverence--such as Ed's reading of Hamlet's "What a piece of work is man" speech--appear as starkly beautiful monuments against the goofball backdrop. Also, I don't believe anyone could forget a Beastie Boys rap version of Othello.

Perhaps the best "message" behind this feat of muscle memory and muscular memories is the idea that there is great earthy vigor and humor underlying "academia's glorified (sterilized) ideal of Shakespeare," a playwright who very clearly aimed his pen at popular consumption as well as at the world of higher ideas.

Now, if they could just manage the same trick for Wagnerian opera.

City Lights Theater Company presents The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) Thursday-Sunday through Dec. 16 at 529 S. Second Street, San Jose. Tickets are $15-$18 (www.cltc.org or 408.295.4200).

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From the November 30-December 6, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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