The Reduced Shakespeare Company (RSC – not to be confused with the Royal Shakespeare Company) has once again brought their wacky take on Shakespeare to Pittsburgh with their latest work, William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged), playing at the Pittsburgh Public Theater through July 1, 2018.
RSC has been a regular at the Public since 1995, with such original works as The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged), Completely Hollywood (abridged), and their best known work, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged). The Complete Works has not only been performed by RSC themselves, it has been regularly revived by local Pittsburgh theater companies, and will, in fact, be presented by The Jester’s Guild at The Glitter Box Theater July 15.
If you’re a theater fan, you’ve probably seen or heard about a production of The Complete Works here in Pittsburgh, so you know the basic idea behind RSC’s productions: they take large works/ideas, and re-imagine them through sketch comedy goggles, creating truncated takes on large tomes with their unique comedic flair.
And they’ve done it again with Long Lost First Play, keeping their trademark aesthetic of three guys on a bare stage playing multiple characters, running in and out of a simple backdrop equipped with doorways and a place to hide their amazing array of quick changes and props. Long Lost First Play is a hilarious re-imagining of Shakespeare with the conceit of RSC having discovered Shakespeare’s first play – basically a mash-up of moments from all of his actual plays – buried under a parking garage King Richard III-style. The “plot” of the show revolves around a “merry rivalry” between Midsummer Night’s Dream’s Puck and Tempest’s Ariel, and the chaos that their constant bickering causes. We meet up with about 46 of Shakespeare’s characters, but never in the context we are expecting. We get some interesting and unexpected character pairings like Dromio (Comedy of Errors) & Juliet (R&J), Lady Macbeth (Macbeth) & Hamlet (Hamlet), Richard III (Richard III) & Cesario (Twelfth Night), and my personal favorite, Beatrice (Much Ado) & Kate (Taming of the Shrew).
RSC, being the clever guys the are, have made a point of sprinkling some Pittsburgh-specific jokes throughout the evening. They make a compelling argument for the enduring relationship between Shakespeare and all things Disney. And they encourage some audience participation by talking directly to the crowd and getting audience members involved in the action at the end of Act I – my only advice: wear wash-and-wear clothes if you are going to sit in the front few rows. There’s singing, kazoo and ukele playing, puppets, fights, and even Shakespeare himself makes an appearance. The plot gets a little lost at times in the midst of all this wackiness, but the RSC players are able to bring it all around in the end.
In fact, the show is so very clever and so silly, it is easy to forget the awesome technical and artistic accomplishment that is the complex process of researching and writing this script. Think of it: writer/directors Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor (who also perform in the show, along with Teddy Spencer, Dan Saski, and Chad Yarish, depending on the night) had to research Shakespeare’s plays, pull out monologues and lines from the shows, write their own rhyming couplet dialogue, seamlessly interweave the Shakespeare lines with their original lines, and pull together a plot line that brings all of these elements together into a cohesive and, harder yet, actually funny whole. And the RSC pulls this off with nary a hiccup.
The company of three actors (Reed Martin, Austin Tichenor, and Teddy Spencer on the night I saw the show) are masters at their craft, combining great comedic performances with a bone-deep understanding of their material. So, whether you love Shakespeare or not, whether you are comfortable with Shakespeare or not, you will find this show entertaining and infinitely accessible. It’s a show that will also hold up to multiple viewings; since there is so much material, you are sure to find new references and new jokes each time you see it.
You can find tickets to the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged) at www.ppt.org. Performances run through July 1, 2018.
Categories: Archived Reviews