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All of Shakespeare, cooked into a two-hour parody

Actors Kris Ide, left; Steph Hankinson; and Daniel Storrow appear in the Davis Shakespeare Ensemble's production of "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)," which continues Thursday through Sunday at the UC Davis Arboretum Gazebo. Rob Fadtke/Courtesy photo

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May 17, 2011 | Leave Comment

Check it out

What: “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)”

When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: Arboretum gazebo on Garrod Drive, UC Davis

Tickets: $12 adults, $8 students, $5 children 12 and under; davis.shakespeare@gmail.com or (661) 304-4341

“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged),” currently being produced in the UC Davis Arboretum Gazebo by the Davis Shakespeare Ensemble, is a parody that boils down the entire Shakespeare canon (sonnets and all) into a very silly two-hour summary, on the theory that (to quote you-know-who) “brevity is the soul of wit.”

The show uses only three actors, several bad wigs, a fake sword or two, a rubber snake, two sock puppets, a more-or-less life-size blow-up doll, and a few other simple props.

The back story: The script was gradually developed during the 1980s by a trio of hungry pranksters (Adam Long, Daniel Singer, Jess Winfield) who honed their material performing at Renaissance faires in California. They eventually compiled the best bits into a short show they took to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1987.

The rapturous reception that they received in Scotland propelled them to expand the show (adding an audience participation segment in the second half). This version enjoyed a successful run in London and a couple of international tours.

Since the early ’90s, the Reduced Shakespeare Company focused its comic approach on other sacred cows, doing shows that summarized the “Complete History of America,” “The Bible, “All the Great Books” and other topics, most recently “Sports.”

Meantime, the original script for “Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” has been picked up by numerous theater groups around the world — because it’s funny, it doesn’t require vast resources to stage, and if it’s done right, it’ll draw a crowd.

This reviewer has probably seen half a dozen productions during the past 10 years, including several in Sacramento. The show’s been done twice at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival.

But as far as I know, the show has not been staged in Davis (until now), and when I chatted with members of the audience Friday, most people said they were seeing it for the first time.

The Davis Shakespeare version features Kris Ide, Steph Hankinson and Daniel Storrow (who dons several of the bad wigs as he plays Juliet and other female roles in drag).

The show begins with Hankinson and Ide posing as Shakespeare “experts,” worried that their lack of background will be revealed. They quickly move into parodies.

These include plays with plotlines that almost everyone is familiar with — even if they’ve never seen them — like “Romeo and Juliet.” In this case, the spoof focuses mostly on the balcony scene, with Ide as Romeo climbing onto the roof of the gazebo to call out to his beloved. But there’s also a campy death scene as well. (Lots of campy death scenes, as well as exaggerated barfing, in this revue.)

The show also takes on a few of the plays that are familiar only to Shakespeare completists, like “Titus Andronicus” (a seldom-staged early Shakespeare tragedy that includes lopped-off limbs, an evil character who’s killed and cooked into a meat pie — shades of “Sweeney Todd,” except Shakespeare got their first — and more).

In this case, “Titus Andronicus” is recast as a TV cooking show. You don’t need to be familiar with the Shakespeare original; the parody is darkly humorous on its own.

Staged in a gazebo and directed by Gia Battista, the action plays out mostly in the small area in the center, surrounded by a circle of seats. This means the three performers are almost constantly bumping into each other, heightening the physical comedy. The gazebo has a roof, but no walls, so it is wise to bundle up if you are attending an evening performance.

The trio’s timing with jokes is pretty good, and their performances are energetic, which is important in a show like this. The script — which was always intended to leave room for improvisation — has been updated here and there with several contemporary pop culture references.

And the basic material is still funny; even I knew what was coming in many scenes — having seen other productions — I couldn’t help cracking a smile.

— Reach Jeff Hudson at jhudson@davisenterprise.net or (530) 747-8055.

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