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The Mom Review: Shakespeare With a Side of Raunch

By Rebecca Dravis
iBerkshires Staff
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Editor's Note: This is a third installment of The Mom Review, a summer-long series of reviews of family-friendly theater, dance, art exhibits, etc., by iBerkshires Community Editor Rebecca Dravis and her 8-year-old daughter, Noelle, who hope to give you some ideas for summer family fun.

If laughter is the best medicine, I most certainly was drugged Friday night by the time I left the premier of "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)" at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox.

As for Noelle ... well she laughed a lot, too, but I'm not sure she always knew exactly what she was laughing at.

"The Complete Works" features three actors attempting to perform all of Shakespeare’s plays in less than two hours. A feverish version of "Romeo and Juliet" kicks off the evening, and a rousing rendition of "Hamlet" concludes it. The other 35 plays were sandwiched in between in entertaining, amusing and culturally relevant ways that I won't spoil by giving any more details. I seriously have not laughed like that in I don't know how long.

“This is what many scholars over the years have referred to as ‘a romp,” says director Jonathan Croy. “Think of it as a ‘Survey’ of Shakespeare’s work — you remember, like those ‘Survey’ History classes they used to have in high school, where you ‘study’ the entire history of the world in three-and-a-half hours a week and then have to write a thousand word paper on the totality of the social, economic and political forces in 17 countries spread out all across Europe in the '30s and early '40s that then resulted in World War II … this is like that.”

Not really, but the description was interesting enough to appeal to us. Noelle and I decided to go see it because it was billed as "something special for audiences of all ages." There is, however, the following warning in the program: "Although there is nothing in this play that would offend children, the cast wanted to forewarn parents that strong language, like 'varlet,' 'calumnious,' 'rabbit-sucker' and 'fart' will be in use."

I'm not sure after seeing it I would agree that there is nothing that would offend children. I think it's more likely that children around Noelle's age are not going to get any of the offensive jokes (and I doubt children any younger than her would sit through it, as it runs more than two hours, albeit with one 15-minute intermission).

Don't get me wrong: It's clearly less offensive than most of what children see on television and in the movies. Most of the inappropriate jokes were sexual in nature, and as I said, they went right over Noelle's soon-to-be-third-grade head, and appeared to be going over the heads of the handful of other kids in the audience. 

Teenagers and precocious pre-tweens, however, will get the jokes, so it's up to you to decide your comfort level. If you don't mind a little bit of raunchiness (which shouldn't really come as a surprise with Shakespeare, anyway), your kids might actually learn to appreciate The Bard. 

Their high school English teachers will thank you.

Now for Noelle:  It was hysterical. I really liked the end, where they did the fast version and backward version of "Hamlet." That was so cool. I didn't quite understand some of it, mostly "Hamlet." It didn't seem like they were following a script, which was a good thing. It seemed more natural. I learned that Shakespeare has a lot of puking. Of course I would go see it again.

"The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)" runs in the Tina Packer Playhouse through Aug. 24. For tickets and information visit www.shakespeare.org or call 413-637-3353.

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