Monday, June 7, 2010

Shakespeare (Abridged) With The World's Stage

Relatively new, young company tackles high-energy Reduced Shakespeare Show

By Russ Bickerstaff
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I see over 100 shows per year in Milwaukee. I write 365 blogs and numerous theatrical reviews and previews over the course of a year. Usually by the time I’ve come to rest in a theatre seat, I end up with a pretty vivid impression of what I’m about to see regardless of how much thought I’ve put into it. As it is relatively new, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the World’s Stage Theatre Company’s production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged.) I’m familiar with the play having seen a Soulstice Theatre production of it recently. I’m familiar with the scripts written by the Reduced Shakespeare Company. In Tandem performed one of their more recent works at the Tenth Street Theatre some time ago. Aside from the basics, though, I wasn’t certain what to expect.

 

The lights came up and I was pleasantly surprised to see three actors I’ve never seen onstage before. This is a bit of a novelty. Usually new actors are mixed in and around more established talents. The World’s Stage Theatre Company is all new talent. It’s not just the company that’s young . . . the actors in it are as well—really young. (They're high school kids who graduate in 2011.) 

 A brilliant production of a Reduced Shakespeare Company show relies on comic speed and precision. Ideally, punch lines are flying by in a precise, impeccably-timed blur. The World’s Stage cast didn’t have the kind of stage experience to pull that off, but it was a great deal of fun watching new talent attempt to tackle the task of quickly presenting Shakespeare’s entire body of work in under two hours. There’s a lot of potential in each of the three people in the cast and it’s fun to see that make it ot the stage outside the context of a formal training atmosphere.

Sam “Butch” Butchart played most of the female parts. Something of an animal onstage, Butch shows some remarkably solid comic instincts here that seem to peer out from beneath a surface of superficial, hammy comedy posturing. To be fair, this mixture of sophisticated and low-level comedy fits the script pretty well and aptly pays homage to Shakespeare’s own comic style. (Shakespeare’s comedy was a relatively even mix of sophisticated and lowbrow humor.) Reduced Shakespeare Company shows feature a mix of genuine drama within the flurry of the comedy. It can make for an exhausting performance that could tax any actor. Butch’s brief, serious monologue drew the mood away from comedy to something much more serious and then back to comedy with admirable precision. First Stage-based high school-aged comedy group Organized Chaos establishes pretty high standards for teen comedy in Milwaukee.  In numerous places here, Butch lived up to that standard.

Tall, thin Sam Mullooly has an interesting stage presence. He’s given one of the more challenging points in the play—a moment onstage alone before and after intermission as it appears that the other two have completely disappeared. The script seems to be going for an awkward moment here where things have gone dreadfully bad and we’re left with one actor to muddle through things until (or unless) the other two return. Mullooly has a kind of quiet calm about him onstage that plays against that. This would be a bit of a let down were it not for the fact that he’s got the right kind of charm. Other two cast members chase each other out of the theatre in heated anger? No problem . . . pick up a guitar and tell cheesy jokes until they get back . . .

World’s Stage Artistic Director Gretchen Mahkorn served a smart, attractive center for the production. At times, Mahkorn held an irresistibly balanced precision that pulled everything together. She hadn’t quite brought the subtle fanaticism to the stage necessary to give the show a sense of urgency, but she seemed to have no trouble treading the razor’s edge between comedy and drama and comedy-as-drama that the script requires. She played Hamlet at the end of the show with a compelling sense of control that seemed to come quite naturally to her. Occasionally she would dive into comedy with a surprising grace. The script provides an opportunity for the actor playing Hamlet to cave under the pressure of doing the To Be Or Not To Be speech. Mahkorn nailed the scene perfectly, adding-in a clever bit at the end of the speech. She’s been under a lot of stress after the series finale of Lost, they say. Just as she’s dragged offstage, Mahkorn reaches out for the audience and shouts, “they all die!” Funny stuff. 

The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is now over twenty years old. The script that The World’s Stage is working from seems to be from the mid’90’s. The references to Newt Gingrich (as Speaker of the House) and Rush Limbaugh (as a going concern) are roughly as old as the cast itself, which felt a bit odd. It’s refreshing to see talent this young challenging itself to try comedy that isn’t extremely old, though. I look forward to more from The World’s Stage.

The Worlds’ Stage Theatre Company’s The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) ran for one weekend only at the Tenth Street Theatre. Future productions and other news will be announced on the company’s Facebook page.  

 

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