'Our tagline is 'Three guys, 37 plays, 100 minutes.' But it's really three guys just brutalizing Shakespeare," says actor Bruce Blackwell. From July 21 through July 30, Blackwell, along with David Pinson and Jaysen Waller, will perform The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) at the Howard Brubeck Theatre on the campus of Palomar College. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) was written for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland in 1987 by the Reduced Shakespeare Company. The Company defines itself as "a three-man comedy troupe known for taking long, serious subjects and reducing them into short, sharp comedies." Other Reduced Shakespeare Company productions include The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged), The Complete History of America (Abridged), and All the Great Books (Abridged).
"The guys who put [this show] together encouraged [performers] to keep the show fresh and contemporary," says production manager Patrick Larmer. Larmer directed this production for Palomar Performing Arts once before, five years ago. "We had a funny line about Newt Gingrich, but it's only funny if Newt Gingrich is still the Speaker of the House," he says. "We also had references to Chernobyl, but it was so long ago, and it was a lame reference anyway."
Larmer feels free to update the performance because the original writers encouraged such revisions in the introduction to their script. "Please, have some fun and come up with your very own put-downs of annoying famous people where required," states the script's intro. The new show may contain a spoof on popular TV chef Emeril Lagasse. "We'll start with the script and go through it and say, 'Is that timely or funny?' At rehearsals, we're just throwing stuff out," says Blackwell. "Pat will sit there and we'll kind of go off on stuff, and we'll think we're hilarious and he'll go, 'You know, that's not so funny.'"
Because there are only three people to portray every major character from all 37 of Shakespeare's plays, the performance requires many costume changes. "In the first act alone, Jaysen and I 'switch on' eight characters, four for each of us," says Blackwell. During one segment of the show, in which Blackwell plays the nurse from Romeo and Juliet, Larmer shares, "...his breasts keep falling out of his shirt." Waller, who plays the majority of female characters, including Juliet, draws on Scarlet O'Hara for inspiration.
Othello is covered as a rap song: "Here's the story of a brother by the name of Othello / he liked white women and he liked green Jell-O / a punk named Iago, who made hisself a menace / 'cause he didn't like Othello, the Moor of Venice." For those unfamiliar with this tragedy, the hero Othello falls prey to the villain Iago's ruse that Desdemona, Othello's wife, has cheated on him with Cassio, Othello's lieutenant. In a jealous rage, Othello kills Desdemona and, after the truth of Desdemona's innocence is revealed, kills himself.
"They do the [Shakespearean] histories as a football game, and the football is a skull," Larmer says. "The whole second act is taken up with Hamlet -- they do Hamlet and then they do it fast, then faster, and then backwards." Titus Andronicus, a tragedy largely considered to be the bloodiest of Shakespeare's plays, is parodied as a cooking show.
Audience participation makes up part of the show. The original script advises, "...each audience is different. The actors should respond honestly to the audience's performance, and their own, rather than stick blindly to the written text."
"The premise is getting people to perform who are intimidated," says Larmer. "We learned to dread having real actors come up, who really wanted to act. I hate pretentious people; even more, I hate pretentious theater, and this is neither. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) makes fun of a lot of contemporary acting, particularly over-the-top method acting. The show has nothing to do with sense-memory or inner motivation of the character."
"We always think people are going to be shy," says Blackwell. "So it's unexpected when an audience member does exactly what they're supposed to do. We might make them scream or run around and be a fool. I'm surprised at how well people would scream -- they would just scream their heads off." -- Barbarella
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
July 21 to July 30
Wednesday through Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.
Howard Brubeck Theatre
Palomar College Campus
1140 W. Mission Road
Cost: $12 general, $10 seniors and staff, $8 students
Info: 760-744-1150, x2453 or www.palomarperforms.com