Last week Scott and I saw My Name is Asher Lev at The Cleveland Play House, which used a three person cast playing multiple characters to tell an intimate story about a man’s struggle between his Hasidic roots and the Manhattan art world. Another show on stage right now in Cleveland uses a 3-actor cast in a similar way to tell a very different story.
At the Hanna Theatre, the Great Lakes Theater Festival kicks off its Spring season with the hilarious, irreverent, three-actor romp The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). In Complete Works – which manages to cram the Bard’s entire canon of plays and sonnets into about 2 hours, three actors playing all of the characters leads to madcap entertainment.
Complete Works was originally developed by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, based on their time performing a half-hour version of Hamlet at a renaissance faire. While working on this abridged version of the prince of Denmark’s story, they discovered that to compete with the noisy and distracted ren faire crowd, they had to be loud, frenetic and in-your-face. After they expanded the same idea to all of Shakespeare’s works, the end result of Complete Works became one of London’s longest running plays and a popular piece for fans and haters of Shakespeare alike. (GLTF’s InterACT page has more from Winfield about creating Complete Works.)
In my opinion, I thought this was the perfect start for Great Lakes Theater Festival’s spring season. Coming on the heels of the tragic Othello and urbane An Ideal Husband, the raucous, occasionally crass but still witty Complete Works was a change of pace. It was also fitting because – known for their expert productions of Shakespeare’s plays – GLTF literally takes the As You Like It line “one man in his time plays many parts” to heart in poking fun at and paying homage to the great playwright with a fun, three-man show.
In GLTF’s Complete Works, the three ambitious players clad in Converse tennis shoes and armed with an outrageous assortment of outerwear and props are veteran actors Paul Hurley, Jason O’Connell and M.A. Taylor. While Taylor is a nine-year member of GLTF’s resident acting company, regional theater regulars Hurley and O’Connell are making their Festival/Cleveland debuts with Complete Works.
One of the things I love about a great production of Complete Works (which this was) is that it’s ripe for personalization and improv. Great Lakes Theater Festival did an excellent job in keeping the show relevant to both time and place. They not only pulled in jokes from pop culture and entertainment news (I’m pretty sure I’ll be incorporating ‘Quagmire of Kardashians’ into my lexicon now), but also a healthy number of Cleveland references.
These hometown jokes included continual mentions of “the Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson Bar” (a reference to Hanks’ invaluable role in the Hanna Theatre renovations), as well as an allusion to LeBron and The (Dreaded) Decision when it was time for the To Be or Not To Be speech. However, I think one of my favorite moments was the reference to Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark during their portrayal of Macbeth. Typically referred to as ‘the Scottish play’ in theatres, the mention of Macbeth or an actual production of it is believed to portend disaster by the superstitious.
While the comic writing, fast-paced costume/prop changes, and actors who didn’t miss a hilarious beat were clear indications of the diligent work that the cast and crew put into this show, you could still see that they had a lot of fun. GLTF Producing Artistic Director Charles Fee, who also did an excellent job in helming the production as director, said, “Complete Works is as much fun for us to produce as it is for audiences to experience…a complete and utter comic send-up, an homage to all things Shakespeare…with tongue planted firmly in cheek, of course. It really is an absolute blast and the Hanna Theatre is a perfect venue for the show.”
When Scott and I attended on Sunday, we also got to see firsthand Great Lakes Theater Festival’s committment to the community. The Sunday matinee offered sign-interpreted and audio-described services for audience members who were in need of it, and since Complete Works is a fun and excellent introduction to Shakespeare, the audience was filled with students from Hershey Montessouri.
Sunday’s performance wasn’t the only time you can take advantage of community initiatives. GLTF continues its ‘New Deal’ pricing this spring – designed to increase accessibility for audiences. As part of the program, adult tickets for every performance always begin at $15 and student tickets for any seat at any show are $13 – making the Great Lakes Theater Festival experience one of the most affordable entertainment options in the region.
Complete Works continues until March 27th, with the second half of the season — Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona — starting on April 8. Tickets for any GLTF production are available by calling (216) 241-6000, by ordering online at www.greatlakestheater.org or by visiting the PlayhouseSquare Ticket Office.
Great Lakes Theatre Festival 411:
The Spring Season
The Hanna Theatre