The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
Presented by Nashville Shakespeare Festival
Through Feb. 4 at Belcourt Theatre
It’s getting to the point where culture vultures can never thirst for some variety of dramatic art at the Belcourt Theatre. There are movies, of course, but you can also see concerts, productions by Mockingbird Public Theatre, lectures on Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado, and now productions by the Nashville Shakespeare Festival, which opened its winter season there last week.
As people seem to be saying “Belcourt Yes!,” so can we heartily recommend the Shakespeare Festival’s new production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), a romp through the Bard’s canon of distinguished plays. Three very good actorsJosh Childs, Matt Chiorini, and Brian Nieceexpend a considerable amount of positive energy poking fun at the master’s many scripts.
After some introductory tomfoolery by Childs, Act 1 gets rolling with a mock version of Romeo and Juliet. Chiorini strums his electric guitar throughout quite nicely, and Niece and Childs do some very funny spoofing of the tragic love tale (including ever-popular bits in drag). Then we get Titus Andronicus skewered as a cooking show, Othello zapped as a rap piece, and so on, through Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, etc. The Bard’s 16 comedies are wrapped up in one fell swoop of a witty recitation, and the “King” plays get a similar fast-break treatment.
Which leads us to Act 2, focusing almost entirely on Hamlet. The highlight here is an extended psychological analysis of poor, beleaguered Ophelia, featuring the very funny participation of some audience members. And just to break the endless japery, Niece, in the midst of it all, launches into a deadly serious and quite eloquent rendition of the “What a piece of work is man” speech. It’s a gratifying momentlest we forget why we love Shakespeare in the first place.
The enthusiasm here is terrific, which isn’t to say that all always ends well. Lampoons of this type are often hard to sustainthere’s a one-note quality to the humor. But generally, the three young thespians pull it off, never losing steam even when the crazy-quilt script comes close to the precipice of tedium. They’re helped out by some diverting rear-screen projections that satirize bad popular culture, and the wide-open nature of the proceedings allows the actors to add dashes of local color to their wisecracking.
Denice Hicks is the director, and she’s done an excellent job of ensuring that the pacing is maintained and the timing is sharp. You won’t laugh all the time at this diverting program, but even when you’re not, you’ll at least admire the actors for never losing faith in their mission.
There’s a new group of actors in town calling themselves THEY. They (no pun intended) are currently at Bongo Java’s After Hours Theatre presenting a bill of two Sam Shepard one-acts: Cowboy Mouth and Savage/Love.
Instead of presenting the plays as distinctly separate works, the company performs them concurrently. When a vaguely defined end point is reached in one, the other picks up. There is no director involved, which is to say that the players direct themselves. The setting is Late Modern Trash, and it extends to the seating areas: Pillows and couch cushions are strewn about, tattered reading material litters the floor, and the audience is welcomed in with nth-degree informality.
Despite the lack of appeal in the intentional chaos, there remains power in the plays. The main piece, Cowboy Mouth, dates from 1971, when a 28-year-old Shepard starred in the first production with iconoclastic poet/musician Patti Smith (who co-wrote the script). The companion piece, Savage/Love, dates from around 1980, by which time Shepard had achieved much success as the author of such highly regarded full-length works as True West.
Despite the obvious need for directiondemocracy being a nice idea only in theoryand the uneven performances, the cast still manages to evoke some semblance of Shepard’s dark, merciless vision of modern society. Between the sexual innuendo, the Lou Reed-like dissoluteness, the references to Jagger and Dylan and offbeat films, Shepard’s disjointed, quizzical stream-of-consciousness monologues continue to say something about America, consumerism, and the cult of celebrity, even some 30 years after they were first spoken.
In Cowboy Mouth, Ross Brooks plays Slim, the failed rock star; the earthy Coco Lovely is his wastrel harridan Cavale; and Joe Giordano is the silly and inscrutable Lobster Man. The Savage/Love cast includes Roger F. Kostiw, Cara Rawlings, and Shannon Bryan, the latter two setting some kind of record for consecutive minutes with nothing to do but brood ghoulishly.
THEY earn an A for effort here, but considerably less for overall effect. Still, it’s cool to see someone take a crack at early- to middle-periodi.e., pre-celebrityShepard. It’d be even cooler to see someone with just a shoestring budget and some moxie and a guiding vision put one on the boards.
If you go to see this, you’ll be supporting alternative theater, but it’s neither for kids nor conventioneers. The Shepard plays run through Jan. 27.
Thank you for the write up. We greatly appreciate it! Hope we raise the funds…
Looks like he was a great Artist.......who left his Legacy behind for others to follow.....
Indianapolis (CA-35), not Indiana.
There were plenty of jumps and screams at the severed-head reveal at the Sunday night…
I just...this recap...why did I not know these were here until now?! 4 times on…