Florida Studio Theatre pays comic tribute to Shakespeare.
By Kay Kipling
You really don’t need to “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” before attending Florida Studio Theatre’s final Summerfest offering, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), so have no fears on that score. While a passing acquaintance with the works of the immortal Will may add a little extra zest to your enjoyment, even a neophyte can have fun with the silliness onstage as three actors attempt to present all 37 plays (albeit in greatly truncated form) on the FST stage.
Of course, some Shakespeare plays get better shrift than others. Romeo and Juliet receives an extended presentation, with actor Brad DePlanche wearing absurdly long braids as the winsome Juliet (he plays a number of female characters, most of whom end up heaving their guts into the face of an unfortunate audience member), Michael Daly channeling Christopher Walken as the Friar, and so on. Christopher Patrick Mullen, meanwhile, has already introduced himself to us as the “scholar” who knows everything about the playwright’s oeuvre (although a few facts may be shaky) and continues to reverence him despite some chinks in the great one’s armor.
Michael Daly, Brad DePlanche and Christopher Patrick Mullen at work.
For example, according to the playwrights here (Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield), all of Shakespeare’s comedies basically have the same plot—that’s why all 14 of them can be neatly bundled into one segment employing cardboard cutouts of some pretty familiar faces. (In general, the zany props and costumes on display here are a comic feast.) The early tragedy Titus Andronicus is so blood-filled they turn it into a cooking show complete with hacked-off body parts. And it’s easy enough to present the histories, with all those kings and wars, as a football game where the crown is the ball.
But after an hour or so of fast-paced nonsense (replete with some up-to-the-minute cultural references), the actors come to a sudden realization: They haven’t yet done Shakespeare’s masterwork, Hamlet. Ay, there’s the rub. The idea of tackling this Everest of drama intimidates Mullen to the point of fleeing the theater, but nevertheless, Act II must tell the tragic tale of the Prince of Denmark. And be forewarned, that’s a ripe opportunity for lots of audience participation.
While Act I is entertaining, certainly, it is Act II that really builds the bigger laughs. Daly, DePlanche and Mullen are all adept at meeting the challenges of the rapid-fire pace and engaging with the audience in the spirit of improvisation. Sure, some of the gags of the evening are pretty predictable, but it’s hard to resist the spirit with which they’re performed. All hail the Bard of Stratford-upon-Avon.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) continues through Aug. 23; call 366-9000 or go to floridastudiotheatre.org for tickets.