Opinion & Editorial, Springfield

Play review: Speed dating William Shakespeare

SPRINGFIELD — What do you get when you combine three actors, 37 plays and one Elizabethan playwright? You get “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” now playing at Pegasus Playhouse in Springfield.

The 97-minute parody of Shakespeare’s comedies, tragedies and histories is directed by Scott Frazier-Maskiell and was written by three friends, Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield. 

Frazier-Maskiell writes in the Pega-bill’s director’s notes that, “Shakespeare is served best when tweaked and twisted.” The Bard’s words are spoken as written, just don’t expect an erudite delivery. 

And don’t expect to be ignored; the audience and the actors are in this together; the stage is two feet from the front row. It is a crib notes presentation of Shakespeare performed by three friends who have the precise timing of a screwball comedy, the physicality of The Three Stooges, and the mutual trust of a commando squad. 

The play opens as Gregory, played by Levi Stewart, introduces himself and reminds the audience that recording the show is prohibited and to turn off their cell phones. Elena Morris as Marie appears next and picks up a book of all of Shakespeare’s plays and declares it is the best book ever written and that everyone should read it. Spencer, played by Spoon Meiners, next proceeds to read Shakespeare’s skewed biography by scrolling through his cell phone.

They begin with “Romeo and Juliet.” Meiners as Juliet, enters wearing a blonde wig and a skirt. She is distraught, pacing. Morris, as her nurse, is nimble, protective. Stewart as Romeo, rushes in to console Juliet. They embrace. Two paper cups of poison. A deathbed kiss. An aside to the audience from Meiners that actually it wasn’t that bad to kiss Stewart.

Another tragedy has Meiners as Titus and Morris as Livinia, with bloody stumps for hands, in a parody of Titus Andronicus as a grotesque cooking show. Scene over, a rush backstage for a costume change. Meiners, wearing a gold headband and carrying a stuffed snake he holds to his neck. He screams. Antony and Cleopatra. 

Minutes later, Meiners in a wig, giggling coyly says, “I’m Kate.” Taming of the Shrew. Stewart and Meiners sword fight in togas. Stewart goes down. Julius Caesar. Most of the comedies were strung together in one raucous scene of rapid fire recital and whirlwind costume changes.

“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” begins Pegasus Playhouse’s second season. Frazier-Maskiell has been involved in every aspect of theater since coming to the area eight years ago, including producing and directing ten original shows. He favors live theater because, “You are seeing the actors. You are breathing the same air. They are in front of you. Not on a screen. They live.”

Here, the actors are in front of you, behind you and if you volunteer, they are beside you on the stage. After a short intermission, the second act is “Hamlet.” When Hamlet tells Ophelia, “Get thee to a nunnery,” the actors, as themselves, don’t think Elena’s scream, as Ophelia, is convincing. They ask for a volunteer to replace her on stage. They then divide the audience into Ophelia’s psyche: ego, superego, and id and tell each group how it should respond to Hamlet’s demand. Ophelia screams and the audience calls out their different reactions. As a closing frenzy, they then play Hamlet, in 53 seconds, “The Russians did it in 51 seconds, but were disqualified for taking steroids,” says Morris. They finish by reciting it backwards in 15 seconds. 

They end on the 97-minute mark. Exhausted. Happy. Friends.

“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” is Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. Tickets and information at pegasusplayhouse.com 541-515-6569.

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