Bennington Community Theater
at Bennington Performing Arts Center
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jesse Winfield; Directed by Todd Hjelt.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Three actors who get together to do this outrageous play have to be crazy. It is a tour-de-force, a non-stop comedy thriller about William Shakespeare and his plays. In just a bit over 90 minutes, plus an intermission, they dissect, project and reflect on the Bard of Avon's output (twelve tragedies, fifteen comedies, eleven histories) and some 154 sonnets. It's a pleasure to know that Will S. didn't live long enough to write too much more, or this show would keep us laughing for hours. It takes talent, nerve and a touch of anxiety to perform this in front of an audience and, by the way, wherever you sit in the theater at the Bennington Performing Arts Center, you will play a role in this mini extravaganza as well, so don't say you weren't warned.
Under the incisive direction of Todd Hjelt D. Mark Blank, Mike Cutler and Chris Restino gradually blend into a single soul. They merge as much from the speed of the play as from the writing of the famous author whose work is extolled in the text of the piece. We learn some things we shouldn't know about Will S.'s less famous memoir, "Mein Kampf," for example. We delve into the mind of Hamlet's girlfriend's deep psychological state when the Prince recommends a career change for her. There is all the requisite sword fighting, wrestling and arras work. And when, just before intermission, we learn that there is only one play left to go, and panic ensues in the company of players, we take a break and soon discover that the final play may engross us for ther rest of our lives.
One photo gives only a slight sense of what the show gives us. By the end of the first act the stage is filled with costume pieces and props and the mess seems symbolic after so many stories and characters have been exposed to the bright stage lights of scrutiny. It seems to be too funny and tragic at the same time. As for the gender-bending and blending remember that Shakespeare's time all the actors were men.
This is the eighth time I've seen a production of this play and the same thing happens to me every time (and I think I'm a perceptive theatre-goer). For as many roles as each one plays they begin to blend in mysterious ways. I cannot tell you who did what but I can comment a bit on the roles and how they were delivered; each actor can pluck the comments out about their own delivery and use them that way for their resumes.
Romeo was charming and suave; Juliet was girlish and appropriately juvenile. Polonius was hysterical and Laertes was appropriately self-possessed. Gertrude died passionately while Ophelia played a drowning scene with both pathos and hilarity. The witches held their moment in singularity and Horatio displayed youthful wisdom in his entire opportunity. There wasn't a single character in this play not well wrought by its actor.
Todd Hjelt, the director of this epic, has had fifteen years of experience with the script and that shows in his very pointed staging. I doubt it will be possible to find better constructed staging of this absurd and delightful play. The lighting by David V. Groupé adds a very professional edge to the play and the uncredited costume design and prop creations are sometimes as funny as the men wearing them and wielding them. After seven previous exposures to this play, I wasn't sure I'd enjoy it again, but as a good play often does this production surprised me. On a cold, cold night in mid-January the trio of actors in this silliest of shows warmed my heart's cockles - whatever they are and provided enjoyment where there was once only weather-dread. You can't ever ask for more than that! Can you, Titus Andronicus?
+ 01/22/2022 +
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) plays two more performances through Sunday January 24, at the Bennington Performing Arts Center, 331 Main Street, Bennington, VT. SEE ONE! For information and tickets call 802-447-0564 or go to their website at www.bpacvt.org.