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"Complete Shakespeare, Abridged (Revised)" - sublimely silly, but satisfying

A barrel of laughs at Tacoma Little Theatre

TACOMA LITTLE THEATRE: From left, Coleman Hagerman, Alex Smith and Luke Amundsen spew out lots of Shakespeare in 90 minutes. Photo credit: Jason Ganwich

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Many theater companies search for the perfect formula to fill their seats and ensure a successful season. Often this leads to the overproduction of a few staple scripts. Thankfully, Tacoma Little Theatre's Second Stage goes a different route. If they were using a formula, this is what it would be: one theater (TLT), three actors (Luke Amundson, Coleman Hagerman, Alex Smith), 37 Shakespeare plays (notably Romeo and Juliet, Titus Andronicus, Macbeth, and Hamlet), for 97 minutes (the audience laughing throughout) equals success.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged (Revised) is the type of production that could be phenomenal or miserable. The key to pulling off the linguistically ambitious script is in the pacing. To be able to condense the Bard's impressive catalogue requires an understanding of the "scope of his characters, actions and words" and to be able to carry out ridiculously fast costume changes with precision. In addition, the abridged and revised works require an ability to cohesively parse together sections of Shakespeare while conveying the larger plot to the audience. This is possible thanks to a good script and the actors' incredible comedic timing.

Suzy Wilhoft directed the dizzyingly hilarious script and managed to get the cast and crew to create a seemingly effortless production. Nods go to stage manager, Sarahann Rickner, and costume designer, Michele Graves. Rickner ensured everything went smoothly backstage with the actors running on and off stage with different props or in different costumes. Graves' costume designs were perfect for enabling lightning fast costume changes and the use of Velcro to aid the actors in costume changes was brilliant.

While it's true the crew did an outstanding job, the play would have fallen flat if not for Amundson, Hagerman and Smith's portrayal of "actors" intent on performing Shakespeare in an hour and a half. They bumble through bits, are incredibly irreverent and hilariously silly. One of the beauties is that you are never expected to believe they are anything other than actors yet they transcend that when the audience least expects and they become that which they poked fun at. While the actors were equally humurous, Alex Smith's speech from Hamlet was awe inspiring. It was the one time during the performance the audience was silent.

Liberties were taken with Shakespeare's original manuscripts (and with the audience). If you have read or studied Shakespeare you will find the production more amusing than those who know nothing of his works. In fact, the more you know, the funnier the play will be but even if you are only familiar with Romeo and Juliet, you are guaranteed laughs. The bawdiness and one or two (minor) swear words may make it less appropriate for younger children. Even if teens don't get all the jokes, the physical comedy would be enough to entertain. The only negative is the play only runs two weekends total so you only have three more chances to catch the hilarity.


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