There comes a moment in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) when all the tomfoolery stops and one of the three actors - at the Century Center for the Performing Arts it's David Turner - quietly delivers the lines of the "What a piece of work is man" speech. "You can hear a pin drop," says a notation in the script off which these three actors are working, and so you can. It's because, with zaniness left, right, center, Turner - who betwixt and between in this section of the show will be dashing in and out as Gertrude, Claudius, Ophelia and the ghost of Hamlet's father - speaks the "piece of work" absolutely straight, no gags.
Except for Compleat being streamlined into Complete, the piece hasn't changed very much from when it debuted here almost seven years ago at the Westside Theatre. Yes, references to Dan Quayle, Newt Gingrich, Vanna White, et al, have been updated to Britney Spears, Judge Judy, et al, but Othello is still done as a rap bit, Macbeth is Scottish-burred to a macfaretheewell, all the comedies are mooshed together into a goulash, all the history plays are welded into one big football game, and so on.
There are 75 costume changes, says director Jeremy Dobrish, who should know.
"Two hundred and seventy-five," actor Peter Ackerman murmurs under his breath.
David Turner: "The least time I have is probably five seconds. There's one dresser stage left, one dresser stage right. All very highly choreographed. I take off a headpiece with one hand and reach for a cloak with the other." "Those dressers are very able," says Jeremy Shamos, who also did the play five years ago in Ithaca, New York. "They each have three arms."
Who gets paid most, gentlemen, they or you?
General hilarity. Then Peter Ackerman says: "A very good question. Probably them, but they deserve it."
It is Ackerman who, early on, informs the customers that the problem has been "how to make these musty 400-year-old plays accessible to a modern audience."
There will be later references to Shakespeare as a "formula writer" who benumbs schoolkids into daydreaming of better, happier things.
None of which is true for Messrs. Ackerman, Shamos and Turner. Shamos was in lots of Shakespeare at NYU - where he played Iago in graduate school - and has been in Cymbeline and Hamlet for the Public Theater.
Turner played Romeo (" . . . now I play Juliet") in high school, and at the Williamstown Theatre Festival appeared with Gwyneth Paltrow in As You Like It. Ackerman has played Romeo twice, and at Yale "was the greatest 19-year-old Polonius ever seen, in fact the greatest 19-year-old Polonius ever seen not just at Yale, but throughout the Western Hemisphere."
Director Dobrish? "I've never before directed any play by Shakespeare - but now I've directed all of them . . . I've heard good things about them," he murmurs in afterthought.
"I think," says Jeremy Shamos, "that in order to send something up, to parody it, you have to have respect and affection for it. You have to love it."
-- By Jerry Tallmer