Classic Theatre of Maryland’s hilarious take on the Bard in brief

'The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)' is a joy for all audiences who may know many or none.

Classic Theatre of Maryland’s production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is a hilariously skillful take on the Bard. Written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield, it boasts of doing all of Shakespeare’s plays in 97 minutes, in comically inventive and unexpected ways. Directed by Sally Boyett, it is performed outdoors in the beer garden of Reynolds Tavern, as part of the company’s Comedy in the Courtyard summer session.

Matthew Harkins brings a comic nonchalance to his roles, mostly female. He begins by reading information he found online about Shakespeare, before confusing it with another, more notorious historical figure. As Juliet, he goes to great lengths to avoid being kissed by Romeo (Drew Sharpe). As Lavinia, the mutilated, wronged woman in Titus Andronicus, he speaks haltingly, as someone whose tongue has been cut out. He can also be serious when needed, delivering Hamlet’s “What a piece of work is man” soliloquy seemingly off-the-cuff and beautifully.

Jack Venton, Matthew Harkins, and Drew Sharpe in ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).’ Photo by Sally Boyett.

Drew Sharpe gives comic energy to his parts. As Laertes he leaps across the stage, emphasizing certain phrases in a funny manner. As Julius Caesar he shrieks “Not again!” while being stabbed. Hunched over and walking with a cane as Polonius, he groans while bowing to Hamlet. At a moment when he is left alone onstage, he tries various ways to entertain the audience, from juggling to playing on a small keyboard, to even a brief striptease.

Jack Venton brings a comic intensity to everything he plays. As a professor in the beginning he urges the audience to escape from the vulgarity of common culture to Shakespeare’s high intellectual joys. As Titus Andronicus, he speaks in a Julia Child–inspired accent about the cooking process, while speaking in a sinister voice to the criminal (Drew Sharpe) whom he serves up for dinner. As Macbeth, he battles with golf clubs Macduff (Matthew Harkins) in a thick Scottish accent. Trying to do the “To be or not to be” soliloquy, he breaks down, claiming that the audience “is laughing at me.”

Costume Designer Sally Boyett creates outfits that help distinguish each actor while adding to the comedy. Venton begins looking professorial in a bowtie and jacket, while Harkins is casual in a Hawaiian shirt and blue jeans. The actors don Elizabethan-looking vests, pants, and caps while wearing sneakers, athletic socks, and knee protection. Skirts and wigs are easily thrown on and pulled off.

The sound, also designed by Boyett, adds to the comedy. An instrumental version of “Smooth Criminal” plays while the actors get their Elizabethan garb on. The Psycho theme music plays when Hamlet stabs Polonius. Voice Coach Nancy Krebs ensures that the various accents are both funny and relatively understandable.

Sally Boyett does a wonderful job as director. The actors navigate the space and each other easily. They move nearly constantly, keeping up the comic pace with circling and spills, as well as racing to change costumes. They interact with the audience well, joking with them and having them participate in an interpretation of Hamlet. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is a joy for audiences of all experiences, from those who have seen all of Shakespeare’s plays (even King John), to those who have not yet watched them.

Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) plays Tuesday evenings through August 29, 2023, presented by Classic Theatre of Maryland performing in the outdoor courtyard of Reynolds Tavern – 7 Church Circle, Annapolis, MD. For tickets ($55–$75), call the box office at 410-415-3513 or purchase online.


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