Review: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)[revised]

Reviewed by MAC Hoover

We were seated on outdoor chairs amidst boxes of cider with bare bulbs of fluorescent lights shining overhead. An eyewash station comprised stage right. There were soft and pleasing guitar riffs, and music drifted like the cool breezes from the open door. This was the setting for The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised] as performed by Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks.

NOT in the park, but all the worlds a stage…right?

At once, I realized we were in very capable hands. Shakespeare isn’t easy, but somehow his writings have stood the test of time. Time does need to be mentioned here as it was a focal point of the performance, but it was not accurate. It didn’t matter, as a good time was had by all. The audience was receptive and engaged, and our hosts for this romp appeared to be having fun.

The company was only three, typical of abridged Shakespeare performances. They adeptly cajoled and stripped the essence of the Bards writing into multiple vignettes, much to the delight of their audience. There was comedy tonight for sure. The adolescent barfing as a running gag grew tiresome, but it is forgiven as the company plays so well together.

We got a brief history of Shakespeare to start us off with an odd segue into WW II. That was strange, but soon we were presented with Romeo and Juliet, which was familiar ground. I particularly liked Titus Andronicus as a cooking show rife with puns. The “Othello Rap” was very, very well done.

We next were presented with the comedic whirlwind of 16 comedies homogenized and regurgitated. Followed by the “Scottish Play,” which was a bit over the top. All is fair in love and war (an idiom NOT from Shakespeare).

The frivolity continued with football references, and throughout the performance, local Pittsburgh ties kept popping up. The company knew its audience for sure.

The evening continues with Hamlet and General Hospital. It works. The denouement was audience participation, and this did not disappoint.

The interesting location led seamlessly to wonderful audience engagement. There was no lighting to distract, the company was ever-present, and there was little in the way of scenery to distract. The props were few, childish, and perfect for the content.

The sound/ music provided by Matt Calvetti was terrific. It was subtle, melodic, and harmonious without being overwhelming. It was neither too loud nor too soft and was a perfect backdrop to the company.

I saved the best for last in speaking of this great cast of characters, who are quite accomplished, skilled, and gifted. Aaron Crutchfield was the perpetrator of most of the vomit jokes and was very enthusiastic. His earnest sight gags were a bit exaggerated, but comedy isn’t easy.

Stoney Richards is a talent whose gifts were not lost on this challenging material. His facial nuances were subtle, and he was the face of Everyman, who drew us into this adventure in literature. The magic of acting is to make it look like you aren’t. Well done.

Jennifer Tober definitely knows her stuff. Not only is she a skilled actor, her movement and presence on “stage” is mesmerizing. She is also very adept at playing off her fellow cast members without chewing up the scenery.

All the “backstage” folks who work tirelessly behind the scenes are to be applauded as well. It’s not always rewarding to always dress in black and strive to be unnoticed. But what they do matters as much as those cast members who are in and under the lights. They may be unseen, but thanks to you….the entertainment was great.

All in all, a fun evening, not to be missed. As a venue, Threadbare was an unusual but decent choice. You can choose to purchase some cider or mead, and food is available before or after.

As far as Shakespeare in the park goes…. I liked it “ out of the park.”

Fore more information and tickets visit: https://www.pittsburghshakespeare.com

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