It's a game of crowns as Shakespeare & Company stages 'The Complete Works' this summer. It's billed as family-friendly, but check out our 'Mom Review' here for the complete scoop on that!
LENOX, Mass. — How do you like your Shakespeare?
In honor of the 450th anniversary of the playwright's birth, Shakespeare & Company this summer is offering up a veritable smorgas-Bard.
You have your choice of semi-biographical ("Shakespeare's Will"), historical ("Julius Caesar"), jazzed-up ("A Midsummer Night's Dream" set in New Orleans), romantic ("Romeo and Juliet" at The Mount), condensed ("Henry IV Parts 1 & 2" combined into a single performance) or, if you prefer, skewered.
"It's like a roast," said Ryan Winkles, one of the stars of "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)."
"It's a roast of Shakespeare. It's all coming from love."
And if you love to laugh, this two-hour romp through the Shakespeare canon is a great way to spend an evening — whether you are a fan of Shakespeare or not.
Winkles, his co-stars Charls Sedgwick Hall and Josh Aaron McCabe and Director Jonathan Croy clearly are on the Bard bandwagon. Each has a long association with the South County festival, which traditionally skews heavily toward Shakespeare but this summer makes a conscious effort to up the ante.
Croy, who has performed in previous productions of "Complete Works" at Shakespeare & Company, said it helps the play to be able to use serious Shakespearean actors.
"They have the love of the plays that then informs the teasing of Shakespeare," Croy said in a conversation with the three actors last week. "This is not a play about, 'Shakespeare is stupid.' It's a play about how he's an absolute genius who also had a few flaws here and there.
"If you look at the plays from a certain angle, tragedy does become kind of funny, and the comedies do have great similarities."
Those similarities are played to the hilt by playwrights Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield in their 1987 play.
"Complete Works" promises and delivers all 37 Shakespeare plays mashed into one irreverent evening. Some works are more abridged than others. The comedies — all 16 of them — are combined into a single work that lampoons the similar plot devices Shakespeare used in his works.
Likewise, the "history" plays, like the two Henrys that Shakespeare & Company will combine in a more serious way next month, are wrapped up into a rollicking game of American football that shows the crown passing back and forth among rival factions.
Some works — not surprisingly, among the best known in the canon — get longer treatments. And if you think you don't like Shakespeare now, you might when the night is over.
"I think varied audiences can appreciate it in different ways," Winkles said. "Someone who doesn't know Shakespeare at all can come in and appreciate it, and it will be very enjoyable. For people who really love Shakespeare and know it well, it will have a whole different layer to it."
McCabe likened it to the "Bugs Bunny" cartoons of his youth.
"There are different levels of comedy happening," he said. "At a preview on [July 6], we had little kids in the audience who were loving it. They're not getting what we did with 'Titus Andronicus.'
"For me, watching Bugs Bunny as a kid, there was a lot of eye candy. There was a lot going on that was clever that, as a kid, I was enjoying. But my parents were watching it too and enjoying it at a different level. They were enjoying the subtle stuff, the wit."
Subtle is not a word that leaps to mind in watching "Complete Works," but there is plenty of wit.
And there are plenty of chances for the audience to become a part of the action. One of the show's hallmarks is its obliteration of the "fourth wall." The actors interact with the audience and make them part of the gags.
That made the show's four preview performances an important part of the production.
"We didn't really know what the show was going to be until we got in front of an audience," Winkles said. "We had no idea what would work and what wouldn't."
"We always pay lip service to the idea that the audience is the other character in the play that you don't get in the play until previews," Croy said. "But in this case, it's the actual, literal truth for once."