Theatre Baton Rouge is staging William Shakespeare’s 37 plays, along with his sonnets, in 97 minutes.
“Oh, we also have 100 props for this show,” says Ronald Coates, one of three actors in “The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged),” which opens Jan. 22.
“And countless costume changes,” adds Travis Williams, who, with Coates and Tyler Grezaffi, fill out the cast. “There are times when the costume changes are so fast that we could accidentally walk out wearing the wrong thing.”
Would it matter? Not really, because just about anything goes in the play, London’s longest running comedy. It’s not an improvisational work, but it does leave its scenes open for possibilities.
Add the audience’s involvement, and the mix is complete.
“We engage the audience in three-quarters of the show, and they will learn things about Shakespeare without being force fed,” Williams says.
“Just think of it as three doofuses who come together to perform Shakespeare,” Coates adds.
And the doofuses show their genius while plowing through Shakespeare’s works in the form of rap songs, martial arts films and soap opera drama, punctuated with strange props.
The joke starts with the title, which begins with an old English spelling for complete, and ends with abbreviations for Shakespear’s names, meaning even the title isn’t complete.
But the play does as promised, touching on all of Shakespeare’s works, including his first hit play, “Titus Andronicus.” And in between, a bearded Grezaffi plays all of the female roles in the same dress but different wigs, Williams performs highlights from “Hamlet,” and Coates inspires romance as a blond Romeo.
“The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkespr (abridged)” was written by founding members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company — Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield — who premiered it at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1987.
The show moved to London after that and has since played throughout the world, holding the record for the shortest-ever performance of “Hamlet” at 43 seconds.
It also clocks in for the fastest performance of “Hamlet” backward at 42 seconds.
And Theatre Baton Rouge’s collaborative cast brings it all together in this production. Director Jenny Ballard specifically chose Williams, Grezaffi and Coates because they’ve worked together in past plays.
“It’s been so much fun, because they come up with ideas during rehearsal, and we keep a lot of them,” Ballard says. “I’m the director, but it’s a four-person experiment. I love working in this environment.”
“The play lends itself to different ideas, and it gives us a chance to think outside of the box,” Williams adds.
But its fast pace also leaves the door open for mistakes.
“If we make a mistake in rehearsal, we sometimes end up keeping it,” Grezaffi says. “But if we make a mistake during the performance, the play is written in such a way that we’ll just go with it.”