Most years, you can count on the first post-Christmas Theatre Baton Rouge production to be on the serious, thoughtful side. Think “Other People’s Money” (2015) and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (2013).
Don’t let the name fool you: “The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)” is not such a play. Nt tht thr s nythng wrng wth tht.
It’s a hilarious production masterfully performed by Ronald Coates, Tyler Grezaffi and Travis H. Williams. Although a working familiarity with William Shakespeare’s plays probably makes it even funnier, it is absolutely not required to be in on the laugh fest that Jenny Ballard directs.
The premise is an attempt to at least reference all 37 of the Bard’s plays — from well-known to obscure — into a single work, with a trio of actors morphing into the various required roles. Yet, each performer maintains a distinct personality: Williams as the snooty, self-proclaimed Shakespeare authority; Grezaffi as the somewhat thick-headed extra who is coaxed out of the audience to perform; and Coates as one who alternates from panic to bemusement as the play progresses (and regresses).
The memorization alone is impressive, as there is a lot of rapid-fire dialogue, some of which is even said backward. Although there are some slower moments, the pace is often breakneck, and especially so for Grezaffi, who has some of the most physically demanding work. If Grezaffi wasn’t in excellent aerobic shape when rehearsals began, this play took care of that. He might want to consider parlaying this into a fitness infomercial.
The play, first performed in 1987, obviously has a script, but it allows considerable room for ad libs that involve unsuspecting audience members and bringing in contemporary culture and personalities. TBR’s opening-night production included mentions of TV’s “Hell’s Kitchen,” Caitlyn Jenner and the local newspaper’s beloved theater reviewer. All that keeps things fresh — as if freshness were in short supply in the original. The staging is necessarily simple, and Crystal Brown’s costume designs are appropriately ludicrous.
Since Shakespeare never shied away from the perversities of human nature, there are some PG-13 moments in the two-hour play. It includes a 15-minute intermission, which allows the actors and the audience to catch their breath.