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Lots of topical references are rooted in the ’80s.



Published: Sun, September 14, 2008 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Tracey D’Astolfo

Lots of topical references are rooted in the ’80s.

NILES — Trumbull New Theatre opened its season Friday with “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare [Abridged],” one of the formula parodies written by the Reduced Shakespeare Company.

Basically, the Reduced Shakespeare takes a voluminous body of work — the Bible, the history of America, or Shakespeare, for example — and reduces it to an oversimplified and usually hilarious series of skits, portrayed by a three-man cast.

In TNT’s “Shakespeare,” the cast is Al McKinnon, Ben Gavitt and Ian Kundus. Heather Fenstermaker-Whetstone is the director.

“Shakespeare” is a quick and quick-witted play, and although it’s not necessary to be well-versed in the Bard, it helps to have some familiarity with his works, and even more so, to have an appreciation for them.

To pull off a Reduced production, the cast members must fully fit into their “real” stage personas. McKinnon is the taskmaster, Kundus is the airhead and Gavitt is the straight man.

They are supposed to be playing themselves, and it heightens the comedy when the audience sees them as real people who are acting only when they put on the abbreviated plays. The trio at TNT comes up a bit short in this regard.

But they had a good handle on the speed of things — a number of line stumbles didn’t slow things down — while displaying the timing that is a prerequisite to the slapstick humor. The wit of the script remains fully intact.

“Shakespeare” is full of topical references, most of which are rooted in the ’80s, but with a few more modern updates, and it’s fairly family-friendly.

It’s played on a mostly bare stage with an intentionally careless-looking replica of the Globe Theater as a rear wall. The onus is fully on McKinnon, Gavitt and Kundus, and they throw themselves into it to get solid results. There’s a minimum of carefully chosen props, which adds to the silliness.

Sound effects are absent, even though they could have added an extra flourish to the gags, which come fast and furious.

The zany antics unintentionally continued during the intermission, when the 50/50 drawing had to be redrawn because the winner apparently had left the building.

The authors certainly know their Shakespeare, because how else could they reduce it to its essence? In the first act, the Bard’s 16 comedies are boiled down, as are most of the major tragedies. Highlights include a Julia Childs take on “Titus Andronicus,” some thick Scottish accents in “MacBeth” and, especially, a hip-hop reworking of “Othello.”

TNT’s “Shakespeare” definitely gets funnier and more inspired as it progresses, culminating in a thoroughly hilarious reworking of “Hamlet” in the second act. That’s when the cast hits its stride.

X“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare [Abridged]” will be performed at 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sept. 26 and 27; and at 3 p.m. Sept. 21, at Trumbull New Theatre, 5883 Youngstown-Warren Road, Niles. Call (330) 652-1103.


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