All the Bard in two frenetic, hilarious hours at American Shakespeare Center

'The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised] (Again)' proves that goofy all-women productions rule.

So Simone Biles has moves so amazing they’re actually named after her. Goody-goody. And we’ve got some hotshot sprinters who think they can set the world on fire with the 100-meter dash?

Big whoop.

Can any of them perform all of William Shakespeare’s plays in two hours, and toss in the Sonnets? And do Hamlet backward? Hah! Our athletes heading to Paris are just a bunch of pathetic pikers when you compare them to the hardest working women in show biz, who are holding forth for only one more week with the perennial satirical classic The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised] (Again).

Ginna Hoben, Jenny Bennett, and Allie Babich in ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised] (Again).’ Photo by October Grace Media.

OK, so the plays are, well yeah, abridged. And that abridgement was revised. And revised again. But hey—this stunt is always going to have you laughing your tail off, and as the show’s original authors intended, there’s ample room for the company to ad-lib, and do their own riffs on the material.

The cast for this incarnation of the show—Allie Babich, Jenny Bennett, and Ginna Hoben—have taken what was originally a goofy-frat-guy thing and proven conclusively that goofy all-women productions rule. All the more impressive that they have directed themselves, Renaissance-style (directing yourself in public still being legal in Virginia, apparently). And this comedic trio has made full use of the well-lit American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Playhouse, openly colluding with the audience to everyone’s delight.

The basic premise is a stuffy, ivy-league type lecture on Shakespeare, which immediately crashes and burns when the lecturer realizes everybody knows who the Bard is. And it doesn’t help that Bennett, our resident (ahem) “pre-eminent” expert lecturer, sits back and lets Hoben recite a hilariously off-base pseudo-biography of Shakespeare, in which she basically lets AI and ChatGPT do all the talking. (There is a wealth of jokes at the expense of our current generation of programmer-idiots, who wouldn’t know a Shrew from a screw.)

The plays themselves get the vaudeville treatment par excellence, beginning with Bennett’s one-woman version of Titus Andronicus, staged as a cooking show (natch). Meanwhile Hoben, ever the AI-inspired clown, comes up with an interpretation of Othello that, of course, has nothing to do with the play, for reasons that will become instantly clear. The Scottish Tragedy (one does not speak the dread name, even in a review—call me timid) is reduced to horrific accents, bagpipes, and golf clubs, and the history plays are, naturally enough, reduced to a football game with the crown as the ball.

LEFT: Ginna Hoben and Jenny Bennett; CENTER: Jenny Bennett; RIGHT: Allie Babich, in ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised] (Again).’ Photos by October Grace Media.
Act 1 concludes with these three conferring on whether they’ve covered everything, only to discover a glaring omission—they forgot to do, like, Hamlet. In the grand theatrical tradition of “I can’t work under these conditions!” one player storms off, followed by another desperate to rope her back in, which leaves Babich all by herself onstage, mortified, playing desperately for time with corny jokes (some of which the audience has to give her the punchline for), poking out a ditty or two on a two-year-old’s grand piano. Priceless stuff.

And yeah, Act 2 is one of the best smack-downs of That Infernal Play About the Melancholy Dane you’ll ever see, with Bennett in hose and pumpkin-pants, Hoben in flowers, and Babich working like crazy to cover all the other characters. (Viewer advisory: sock puppets come in for a grueling workout.)

One indication of the chaos: a typical evening’s performance of The Complete Plays here features 96 props, not including the extra box of Reynolds Wrap, which comes in handy for one of the most on-the-floor-silly puns I’ve ever seen. And believe me, I’ve groaned through quite a few in my time as a critic.

Y’all have only one more week to catch this frenetic, hilarious show in all its messy glory. Make plans to head to Staunton as soon as the fireworks sputter out!

Running Time: Two hours, including one intermission.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised] (Again) plays through July 7, 2024, presented by American Shakespeare Center at the Blackfriars Playhouse, 10 South Market Street, Staunton, VA. For tickets ($34–$68), call the box office at (540) 851-3400, or purchase them online.

Cast and artistic team credits for The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) are online here (scroll down).

COVID Safety: American Shakespeare Center strongly encourages patrons to mask when possible. ASC’s complete COVID-19 Safety Visitor’s Guide is here.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised] (Again)
By Adam Long, Daniels Singer, and Jess Winfield
New Revisions by Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield

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