Shakespeare Dallas' whirlwind sketch show bogs down the Bard
You would think a play with the word "abridged" in the title would be on the shorter side, but that's not the case with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised], currently being presented by Shakespeare Dallas at the Samuell-Grand Amphitheatre.
A surprisingly plodding mash-up of the Bard's oeuvre, the two-hour show — written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield of the Reduced Shakespeare Company — touches on 35 of Shakespeare's plays in the first act, then spends the second focusing entirely on Hamlet. Some titles get little more than a mention, while others like Romeo & Juliet and Titus Andronicus receive full-blown sketches.
This is important to say up front: The cast of this particular production is outstanding. Marti Etheridge, Shawn Gann, and Ryan Matthieu Smith all throw themselves fully into the dozens of different characters (including their own selves), heaping physical comedy atop slapstick antics — all outdoors in the sweltering Texas summer heat.
But while the performers are tireless, the material is tiresome. Punchlines can be spotted as far away as Fair Park, and while the script has been updated to include current pop culture references (#FreeBritney!), even these seem forced and pandering.
Raphael Parry's direction is uneven, with some bits going whiz-bang fast while others drag on. Several forays into the audience also elicit less-than-enthusiastic participatory responses, despite the obvious improv talent displayed by the cast.
Hardly any prior knowledge of Shakespeare's plays is required, as the script mostly spells out the basics on a grade-school level. And if you didn't catch something in the Hamlet portion, don't worry — the cast repeats it several different ways and at several different speeds. If the audience was previously wondering how a single play was going to fill out the second act, this is how.
The success of this show's original version in the West End proves that the public does appreciate a more approachable way to consume Shakespeare. But while its Cliffs Notes-feel may make the Bard easier to understand, it doesn't necessarily guarantee a great time.
Shakespeare Dallas' The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised] runs through July 24 at Samuell-Grand Amphitheatre.