October 9, 2003


The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)

reviewed by
Lynn Trenning











For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

References to popular culture are almost as numerous as the words of the Bard in the University of North Carolina Charlotte’s production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged). Directed by Matt Webster, and written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, the play desperately strives to convince the audience that Shakespeare is relevant today.

Three actors, Katie Campbell, Wil Johnson, and Ian Sullivan dip into an array of theatrical devices, from gospel preaching to depict King John, to the Titus Andronicus cooking show. Macbeth is performed with self-claimed perfect Scottish accents (and they are). They take on Othello as a rap. In between skits, the actors refer to each other by their first names.

While these tactics are innovative, too much time is spent rationalizing Shakespeare’s importance. Often the cultural references are just bad jokes that become tiresome interruptions. References to Jennifer Lopez and Katherine Hepburn are mean spirited and gratuitous.

High points include Sullivan straddling a railing as Juliet in the balcony scene, his hairy legs and red converse high tops swinging. Campbell’s hysteria-filled Hamlet both mocks and embraces the lunacy of the Prince. In his recitation of "Sonnet 135," Johnson skillfully emphasizes the word 'will' to refer to his own first name, with wink-wink results.

Like the real thing, the abridged version maximizes opportunities for bawdy double entendres, many utilizing today’s English in ways Shakespeare might have admired. But, if this is what it takes to make the Bard interesting to today’s audiences, perhaps he should be left on the shelf.

Lynn Trenning, October 9, 2003

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