Friday, July 31, 2009

Willy the Shakes

Shakespeare was a bloody genius, no bloody question. But here's the awful truth, folks. He wasn't writing for us. Us sophisticated, 21st century, postmodern pinheads, that is. He was writing for 15th century Elizabethan pinheads. They were his audience.

Just to make things nice and sparkling clear. Shakespeare, whatever high-flown artistic motives he had, was writing to entertain that audience. And, in the process, make money.

As a result, here in the 21st century ...

Shakespeare's serious stuff doesn't translate. And his jokes don't fly.

To make matters worse, most of us first encountered WS as an assignment. Or, even worse. As a self-imposed exercise in intellectual snobbery.

Which makes attending a Shakespeare play sorta like going to church. Not the fun kinda church where they shake tambourines and hoot and holler. No. The dull variety of church. Where you sing every tedious verse of every tedious hymn in a slow, measured pace while the organ thunders. Where you perform elaborate rituals without context. Where you listen to a long, long, long, long sermon in an archaic dialect that makes you feel good about yourself by, perversely, showing how rotten you are.*

Such is the Church of Shakespeare. It's only natural that a pack of clowns would make us laugh by farting in it.

I refer, of course, to the Florida Studio Theatre's Reduced Shakespeare Company production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged). All 37 plays in two hours or your pizza is free. No kidding.

It's funny stuff, folks.

* Titus Andronicus as a cannibalistic cooking show.

* All of Shakespeare's comedies mashed up together. Only one plot for the lot, after all. It's only fair.

* Shakespeare's history plays as a football game.

* Hamlet as reimagined by the Monty Python troupe holding a seance with the spirit of Groucho Marx.

Michael Daly, Brad DePlanche and Christopher Patrick Mullen act and Jim Helsinger directs. The comedy, in case you asked, which you didn't, but I'll tell you anyway, is character based, which is a fancy way of saying you're supposed to believe three theatrical nuts really think they can distill Shakespeare in two hours or less, including one reluctant maniac who starts equivocating when it's Hamlet time. Is that coincidence or what?

It's hilarious, but it's only hilarious because the sacredness of Shakespeare is indestructible.

At one point, one of the characters jumps into Hamlet's What a piece of work is man speech. The point being, essentially: What a piece of shit is man. It's depressing, if you think about it. But who cares? The language is so damn beautiful.

This feels like a hilarious mockery of Shakespeare. Hilarious it is, but it's no mockery.

It's really a love letter.

The Complete Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (abridged)
Through Aug. 23
Florida Studio Theatre
1241 North Palm Ave., Sarasota

*Hey, that's obviously the off-putting Hallmark Productions surface level of the Bard. Suffice to say, as much as Shakespeare was feeding the spirit of his time, he was speaking beyond his time. There's an ocean of meaning below the crowd-pleasing stuff. And all the centuries to the last measure of recorded time really are his audience. I could go on about this, but this byte-sized review is not the time or place.

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