Shakespeare: Completely worked-over

A play called The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) might sound like an onstage reading of an English student’s CliffsNotes, but the performance is much more satisfying. Scotch ’n’ Soda put on the show over the weekend, in a performance featuring senior English major Julia Brown, first-year business major Stephen Chan, and first-year science and humanities scholar Joshua Patent.

Instead of trying to discuss every single plot point of every single Shakespearean play, The Complete Works touched only the interesting ones — which, admittedly, is a lot less than you’d think. More importantly, the show dealt with the aspects of Shakespearean plays that everyone always complains about: the extreme similarities of the comedies, Ophelia’s startling insanity in Hamlet, and the entire plot of Romeo and Juliet.

In Complete Works, the actors began by announcing the goal of the play: “[To] see a future where this book [*The Complete Works of William Shakespeare*] will be found in every hotel room in the world.” This was spoken in a Southern reverend’s accent, making the statement truly memorable. Next up was a cooking show parodying Titus Andronicus followed by an Othello-inspired rap. After that, the actors went on to perform one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays: Romeo and Juliet. Romeo and Juliet has long frustrated high school students and all those opposed to the overly romantic tragedy. But the show’s portrayal of the play pokes fun at its melodramatic nature — enough to please even the least inclined audience.

The play then moved on to the best part: the discussion of the comedies. On stage, the actors decided that all of Shakespeare’s comedies are essentially the same and resolved to “put all 16 plays into one.” This super-play covers all the bases of a typical Shakespearean comedy — mistaken identity, girls dressed as boys, cranky parents, rags to riches, etc. Instead of tackling each of Shakespeare’s histories on an individual basis, the play compared the histories to a football game, with the English crown as the ball. Here, the actors gave a impressive performance, seamlessly narrating each of the plays while upholding the extended analogy of football.

The second act of the play dealt with Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet, though the synopsis was anything but typical. The actors focused on perhaps the most irksome aspect of the play: how Ophelia, Hamlet’s lover, goes crazy once Hamlet loses interest. They analyzed Ophelia’s reaction to Hamlet’s famous line: “Get thee to a nunnery!” The actors shared their own ideas about Ophelia’s id, ego, and superego with members of the audience, who were encouraged to participate.

Thus, audience interaction was what made the play such a pleasure to watch. It was interesting how even for little questions, the actors looked to the audience for answers and enthusiasm. One the whole, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) was done in a way that made all of the plays, and playwright himself, much more interesting and accessible.