Shakespeare? Seriously?

I f you have avoided Shakespeare, remembering it as incredibly slow and hard to understand, this abridged and revised version will keep you awake and possibly breathless. It is 97 minutes of comedy and action, dipping lightly and irreverently into all 38 of the Bard’s plays. The actors run, they leap, they play football with […]

Human Race Theatre’s production of
The Complete Works of William
Shakespeare (abridged) [revised]

hilariously pulls out all the stops


Three cheers for Shakespeare! — Bruce Cromer, Jordan Laroya,
and Shaun Patrick Tubbs (L-R)

By Jacqui Theobald

If you have avoided Shakespeare, remembering it as incredibly slow and hard to understand, this abridged and revised version will keep you awake and possibly breathless. It is 97 minutes of comedy and action, dipping lightly and irreverently into all 38 of the Bard’s plays. The actors run, they leap, they play football with a crown. They define perpetual motion.

Director Aaron Vega says, “I believe in an audience being able to get it.” He has created a backstory that three actors, two of them former students of the third, have wandered onto an empty Human Race stage. Bruce Cromer has been at Wright State University since 1987 with the Professional Actor Training program. Shaun Patrick Tubbs was indeed a student of his. He seems to be everywhere at once and is as light on his feet as his delivery is effective. Their movement and choreography is beautiful. They are joined by Jordan Laroya, also a deeply experienced Shakespearian actor; he simpers and sashays through many of the female roles. Vega makes sure that all three actors are moving, jumping, running and spouting passages at all times.

If you are out of breath from watching 38 plays consider the three actors who are in constant motion.

They spend some time with Romeo and Juliet. “Too long at 12 minutes,” they said. The bucket-breasted nurse is wonderfully dramatic. Costumes are really just small augmentations. Throughout we have Cromer in his pink tights, and almost always in his doublet. Costume designer Noell Wedig-Johnston, Suzanne Kern, Costume Shop Manager and Andrew Ian Adams, Wardrobe, have been effectively minimalist. A sheet, a ruff, a crown, and wigs, wigs, wigs.

Cromer, the accomplished performer of Shakespeare said he is looking forward to doing Titus Andronicus at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey soon. The Complete Works will help him to not take himself too seriously when he arrives in New Jersey.

Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield—the playwrights—seem quite willing to make revisions that allow the actions and characters to have a local and contemporary flavor. One classic completely steals a Hamilton rap.

The playwrights briskly dispatch all 16 of the comedies by proclaiming that the plots are all the same. Cousins and dukes are confronted with mistaken identities followed by general confusion and all’s well that ends well. This writer would have been delighted to see the company do the wall scene from Midsummer Night’s Dream. Instead there is a much-needed intermission

The entire second act is devoted to Hamlet, “the greatest play ever written,” they say. They do it straightforwardly at first, and then it all goes off the rails.

At one point the audience is divided into several cheering sections, Id, Ego and Super Ego. They competed lustily with Shakespearian phrases; ‘Get thee to a nunnery’, ‘Paint an inch thick’ and ‘I want babies now.’ Perhaps audience members will never be able to see Hamlet again without remembering how holes can be poked in the most serious of theatrical endeavors. The ghost of Hamlet’s father is like a child’s Halloween costume; a stuffed sheet with a hand drawn face. It goes swinging out on a zip line from stage left to center stage.

The script encourages the director to decide how to present the show. Director Vega said that he and Scenic Designer, Eric Barker, at first considered setting the play as if it were on a playground, but then decided it should be an empty stage. Vega said “I went to prop storage and came back with two full shopping carts.” He and prop master Heather Powell then placed items for the cast to use all around the still bare set.

Director Vega is also a Wright State theater grad and was an HRT intern. He was one of the founders of the Zoot Puppet Theater Company in Dayton. He eventually found some success in New York, but felt the pull of Regional Theater and is now with a theatre company in Denver.

Sound is by Jay Brunner. The Stage Manager is Jacquelyn Duncan who is called on often by the cast. Production assistant is Anna Moore. Eric Moore is the Head Carpenter and Charge Artist. Technical Direction is by Adam Crowell. The Lighting Designer is the creative John Rensel. He plays tag with the spotlight, often with Cromer, who earnestly chases the light. The Production Electrician is Rick ‘Rico’ Stewart. Tara Lail and Kevin Moore are producers. The lobby is festooned above with looped and crisscrossed light strings, startling in that normally calm area.

Cromer says, “In comedy you know whether it is successful by the reaction of the audience.” By that standard this show is successful with a whoop and a holler.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised] is playing at the Human Race Theater, now through June 17, at The Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main Street in downtown Dayton. For more information about the show, visit humanracetheatre.org. For show times and ticket information, call 937-228-3630 or go to TicketCenterStage.com.

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Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at JacquiTheobald@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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