Just before the end of the first act of The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged), Richmond actor CJ Bergin* plopped down on the front of the stage and spoke directly to my literature-loving parenting heart. I’m paraphrasing here, but young-ish CJ said it was easy for him to recall the gloomy days of classroom entrapment while being forced to read Shakespeare.
Not a half-hour earlier, I had assured one daughter who had just slogged through Julius Caesar in sophomore English, that this would be different. The eye-roll was strong, but having seen a similar (abridged production) at the Modllin Center years ago, I knew we were in for some serious laughs.
This Shakespeare mash-up from Quill Theatre shows annually during the Richmond Shakespeare Festival at Agecroft Hall. That means you have a little bit of time to talk your kids into seeing this production so they can a) actually laugh so hard they cry while watching Shakespeare, and b) gleefully report to their middle school or high school English teachers that they not only saw Shakespeare, but that it was awesome.
During the production, which runs about two hours including a 10-minute intermission, three actors portray an infinite number of roles while careening though the Bard’s slate of tragedies and comedies. During the show we saw, the aforementioned CJ Bergin* wore an infinite number of bad wigs really well in his roles of Ophelia, Juliet, Desdemona, Cleopatra, and others. Virginia Rep veterans Dixon Cashwell and Joseph Bromfield* completed this trio of superbly talented improvisational specialists. I did want to stay for the talk-back and ask them if they considered themselves improvisational specialists, but alas we had an indoor soccer game.
The beauty of this mad-cap, high-speed roller coaster ride through Shakespeare is two-fold: it moves so quickly, you don’t have even a minute to fathom what you don’t know about the individual play before you’re smacked in the face with the next one; and the audience participation is so well-crafted and fast-paced that you (and yes, your kids) are allowed no time whatsoever for embarrassment.
The first act covers the comedies (in one fell swoop) and all the tragedies, except Hamlet, which is saved for an exclusive treatment in act two. Our favorite skits (although that word might seem a little basic to describe the scenarios, they really are skits expertly woven together) were the Titus Andronicus cooking show, the Othello honky rap, the Shakespeare kings playing football (including the ejection King Lear received for being the only fictional king on the field), and the backwards presentation of Hamlet.
A special shout-out goes to the costume designer, as it must have been a challenge to get these actors in and out of costumes as they flew by backstage.
The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) is showing at the Richmond Shakespeare Festival. It’s very funny, a little salty, and we decided, best-suited for thirteen and up due to some adult language and themes (conveniently, this is also about the time most kids are first forced to read Shakespeare in school). As a parent, I have to say it is completely worth the time and financial investment, if only to hear your child admit she enjoyed seeing Shakespeare on stage.
Quill just added another showing to its outdoor run. Go HERE for showtimes and tickets.
*This review was adapted from a previous showing and includes references to a different cast.