THEATER REVIEW: Complete Works of Shakespeare at the Bennington Performing Arts Center

D. Mark Blank, Mike Cutler and Chris Restino in a scene from ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)’. Photo Kate Whitehall

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
Bennington Community Theater at the Bennington Performing Arts Center
Written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jesse Winfield
Directed by Todd Hjelt

“Tight Ass Androgynous”

Three actors who come together to make this outrageous play must be crazy. It’s a tour de force, non-stop comedy thriller about William Shakespeare and his plays. In just over 90 minutes, plus an intermission, they dissect, project and reflect on the production of Avon’s Bard (12 tragedies, 15 comedies, 11 stories) and some 154 sonnets. It’s a pleasure to know that Will S. didn’t live long enough to write much more, otherwise this show would have us laughing for hours. It takes talent, courage and a touch of anxiety to perform this in front of an audience and, by the way, wherever you sit in the theater at the Bennington Performing Arts Center, you’ll also be playing a part in this mini extravaganza, so don’t say you weren’t warned.

Under the incisive direction of Todd Hjelt, D. Mark Blank, Mike Cutler and Chris Restino gradually merge into a single soul. They are confused as much by the speed of the play as by the writing of the famous author whose work is advocated in the text of the play. We learn things we shouldn’t know about Will S.’s less famous memoir, “Mein Kampf,” for example. We dive deep into the mind of Hamlet’s girlfriend’s psychological state when the prince recommends a career change. There’s all the swordfighting, wrestling, and arras work required. And when, just before intermission, we learn that there is only one play left and panic sets in with the players, we pause and soon discover that the final play can absorb us for the rest of our lives.

A photo gives only a slight idea of ​​what the show gives us. By the end of the first act, the stage is filled with costume pieces and props, and the mess seems symbolic after so many stories and characters have been exposed to the bright stage lights. It seems too funny and tragic at the same time. When it comes to gender and blending, remember that in Shakespeare’s day all actors were male.

This is the eighth time I’ve seen a production of this play and the same thing happens to me every time (and I think I’m a discerning theatergoer). For as many roles as each plays, they begin to blend together in mysterious ways. I can’t tell you who did what but I can comment a bit on the roles and how they were delivered; each actor can extract the comments on his own performance and use them for his CV.

Romeo was charming and suave; Juliette was a little girl and suitably youthful. Polonius was hysterical and Laertes was suitably self-possessed. Gertrude died passionately while Ophelia acted out a drowning scene with both pathos and hilarity. The witches held their moment in the Singularity, and Horatio displayed boyish wisdom in all of his expediency. There was not a single character in this play that was not well done by its actor.

Todd Hjelt, the director of this epic, has 15 years of experience with the screenplay and it shows in his very sharp direction. I doubt that it is possible to find a better constructed staging of this absurd and delightful play. David V. Groupé’s lighting adds a very professional edge to the piece, and the uncredited costume designs and props are sometimes as funny as the men who wear and wield them. After seven previous exposures to this piece, I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it again, but as is often the case with a good piece, this production surprised me. On a cold, cold night in mid-January, the trio of actors in this silliest show warmed the cockles of my heart – whatever they were – and gave me pleasure where there was none. only once was afraid of time. You can never ask for more than that! Can you, Titus Andronicus?

Click here for upcoming events at the Bennington Performing Arts Center.