Review: ‘William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged)’ at Folger Theatre

Whatever you’re doing, stop now. Run – do not walk; run – to Folger Theatre for the glorious ray of sunshine that is William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged).

Created by the Reduced Shakespeare Company (which abbreviates itself RSC and could probably give that other RSC a run for their money), this world premiere production features a stellar cast of three: writers and Co-Directors Austin Tichenor and Reed Martin, and RSC newcomer Teddy Spencer, playing themselves. The play imagines them just returned from a tour in London, where, buried under a parking lot in Leicester, they found a 100-hour-long manuscript written in the 17-year old Shakespeare’s very own hand (a “faux-lio,” if you will).

Pictured (l to r): Reed Martin, Teddy Spencer, and Austin Tichenor. Photo by Teresa Wood.
Pictured (l to r): Reed Martin, Teddy Spencer, and Austin Tichenor. Photo by Teresa Wood.

The result is a loving, self-deprecating riff on Shakespeare’s complete canon, condensed into about 90 minutes and chock full of hilarious references to Disney, Winnie the Pooh, contemporary literature, film– if it’s anything involving Shakespeare in pop culture, it’s there. Famous speeches are mangled and lumped together into very funny new ones. This “first play” places all Shakespeare’s characters together in one universe, which continuously references itself, and imagines them messed with a la Midsummer by Puck (Martin) and Ariel (Teddy Spencer in a Little Mermaid costume). There’s even a reference to Cardenio, the actual “lost play,” supposedly written by Shakespeare in 1613, and the question of exactly how many plays he actually authored (36 or 42, depending on who you ask).

Every Shakespeare trope is here: cross-dressing, very, very dirty jokes (this one is not for kids), minimal set, quick changes, a shipwreck, twins, political puns (typical in Shakespeare anyway, but this is DC, after all), spontaneous breaking into song – featuring, at one point, Richard III playing a ukulele. There are kazoos. There are puppets. There is an Oberon who looks like a Mexican wrestler. And if you’ve ever wondered how many ways one can riff on “To be or not to be,” the answer is: a lot. And they’re all hilarious.

RSC clearly love and admire the Bard, and this admiration for him shines throughout the entire show. Martin, Spencer, and Tichenor have created an absolutely perfect Shakespeare tribute with something to please everyone, regardless of familiarity with the language.  Everything about it is fun. I laughed until I cried. Several times.

The Reduced Shakespeare Company (l to r: Austin Tichenor, Teddy Spencer, Reed Martin) on stage as the Weird Sisters. Photo by Teresa Wood.
The Reduced Shakespeare Company L to R: Austin Tichenor, Teddy Spencer, and Reed Martin on stage as the Weird Sisters. Photo by Teresa Wood.

The show is also participatory, to a point, so don’t sit in the front if you’re not comfortable playing along. But while you’re there, definitely do check out the wonderful “America’s Shakespeare” exhibit in the Folger’s main hall, which the show is playing in conjunction with through the end of its run as part of Folger’s “Wonder of Will: 400 Years of Shakespeare” project, and which is open through July 24th.

Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, including one intermission.


William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged) plays through May 8, 2016 at The Folger Theatre – 201 East Capitol Street SE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 544-7077,  or purchase them online.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1540.gif

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Emily Gilson
Emily Gilson makes art. A DC-based actor, rescue kitty mommy, historian, and professional Christmas caroler, she loves all things nerdy, British, chocolately, and caffeinated, and moonlights as a front-of -house staff person and walking tour manager at Ford’s Theatre when not creating things. A native Washingtonian, Emily holds a double BA in Drama Studies and Medieval History and Literature from Purchase College, SUNY, has studied with the Studio Theatre Acting Conservatory and the Theatre Lab, and is a 2012 alumna of the Overtures musical theatre intensive at Signature Theatre. 2015 will mark her 3rd season as a company member with 42nd Street Singers, a costumed caroling group comprised of local musical theatre and opera talent. She thinks it would be awesome to be able to time travel and is entirely unashamed of having seen 'Phantom of the Opera' – the first show she ever saw - roughly once every decade.


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