There once was a time when the Albuquerque Little Theatre (ALT) catered exclusively to the prim and proper. You could bring your grandma or your 8-year-old and you wouldn’t have to worry whether they might take offense at a soft-core penis joke or some simulated retching.
Those days, thankfully, are over. The ALT still caters to a more conventional audience than most other theaters in town. They have a family theater series for the kids, for example, and they do standard vanilla fare like their pre-Christmas staged version of It’s a Wonderful Life. This is a good thing, and not only because these shows pay the rent. Albuquerque is a large enough city to deserve the broadest theatrical palette, from the comfortingly ordinary all the way to the oddball fringe.
That said, it’s nice to see Albuquerque’s most venerable theater throw in some dirty surprises now and then, challenging its audience with material you would usually only find in hipper, grubbier venues. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is an enjoyable example of this. This isn’t weirdo experimental theater but it is just a little bit smutty, and it’s strange enough to satisfy those eager for something a wee bit different.
The premise is a fun one. Three actors attempt to cram the entire output of William Shakespeare into a two-hour show. We’re talking everything—every play, every sonnet. For good measure, they even throw in a bit of mangled bard biography.
Of course, to make it all work, they have to cut a few corners, and the creative solutions provide much of the entertainment value. The verbal agility required to accomplish some of the scenes is ear-popping, particularly when they smash all of Shakespeare’s comedies into a single machine-gun monologue or transform Othello into a freaky white-boy hip-hop number.
We’re in good hands with this production, which is directed by Lee Francis and Jason Witter, two of the masterminds behind the local comedy troupe Eat, Drink and Be Larry. For one thing, these boys have plenty of experience making fun of Shakespeare. Original shows like Hamlet the Vampire Slayer and Macbeth in Space have been fixtures of Albuquerque’s late-night comedy scene for years.
Two of the three performers—Scott Bryan and Daniel T. Cornish—are Eat, Drink and Be Larry veterans. The third performer, Ryan Jason Cook, is an impressive and seamless addition.
It’s hard to talk about the actors as individuals because they work so well together as a unit. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is an energetic, athletic show with the threesome doing handstands, flips, rolls, spectacular falls and slides. They stomp. They shout. They force the audience to take heed.
This show is all about having a good time, and that’s about it. Still, the membrane between audience and performers gets pierced at several points during the play, as a reminder, perhaps, that Shakespeare isn’t merely about dead poets and kings but can also offer up a powerful exploration of the here and now.
In one crucial scene, the threesome forces a bewildered audience member to become Ophelia. In that moment, the membrane gets torn away entirely, and we see, to our horror, that there’s no division at all between the folks cowering in their seats and the exuberant bozos on stage. It’s a transcendent point in a show that expels most of its energy mocking Shakespearean pomposity. In that moment, all the world really is a stage, and all of us merely players—making exits and entrances, taking on different roles, forced to change with new circumstances.
Yet The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) will be just as appealing to people who hate Shakespeare as to those who love him. Just sit back and enjoy the ingenious, fluffy stupidity of it all. And if your grandma is offended by simulated retching, leave her at home.