by MEGAN HUSSEY
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) offers funny and novel takes on the Bard’s plays–37 of them, in a single production. The play will be performed Thursday, Apr 15, 7:30 p.m. – Sunday, April 25, 4 p.m. at Stage West Community Playhouse, 8390 Forest Oaks Blvd., Spring Hill.
Written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield, this Shakespearean satire was performed originally by Britain’s Reduced Shakespeare Company and has been enacted on the Broadway stage. And now, this spirited comedy–which also earned the title of London’s longest-running comedy after a decade at the Criterion Theatre–comes to the Stage West stage.
“It parodies the plays of William Shakespeare with all of them being performed in comically shortened or merged form by only three actors. The fourth wall is nonexistent in the performance, with the actors speaking directly to the audience during much of the play, and some scenes involve audience participation,” read a Stage West synopsis. “It is also common for them to make references to pop culture or to talk about local people and places in the area where the play is being performed. As a result, performances differ, even with the same cast.”
Stage West director Jamey Feshold sees this production, which samples 37 Shakespeare plays, as both practical and sentimental in scope.
“I believe the theatre chose the production because it was a small cast size that could be performed safely even considering the current health concerns,” he said. “As for me offering to direct it, I have always loved this show since I discovered it in high school and it was a show that really showed me how you can combine these traditional aspects of theatre, in this case being the Shakespearean language, but combine it with modern sensibilities and humor to create something that elevates both themes.”
Feshold also hopes that the play’s lighter tone will brighten the mood of audience members.
“I feel like people could always use more laughter,” he said, “but I do understand that with the kind of tension and stress that exists, the little escapes that theatre and especially comedic storytelling can provide can be integral to the emotional health of the community.”
The improvisational nature of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) lent special challenges to the Stage West production.
“When it comes to improvisation, I find the best way to manage it is simplify simplify simplify. From a technical aspect, I worked to keep the sets, costumes, lights, and sound as simple as possible, really only pushing where absolutely necessary,” said Feshold. “That way the focus is always on the actors, and the language being used. This allows the actors to really stay in the moment and focus on the energy and responses being given by the audience.”
In staging this production, Feshold also made special concessions for health considerations.
“We have three primary cast members, but considering the health risks,” she said. “I cast an additional understudy as well as preparing one of the roles myself to help cover if there were any Corona-related problems.”
The main cast consists of:
Dana Campbell is an experienced improvisational actor who worked for a number of years doing lane work and stage combat for the Bay Area Renaissance Festival.
“She adds a big energy and adaptability that can be hard to find in actors who have only trained traditionally,” said Feshold.
Gillian Isibue is a performer who has worked in a number of modern musicals, such as Bonnie and Clyde. She also has worked in numerous interactive performance environments, as well as in circus-style performances, working with her boyfriend as a partner acrobat.
“This eclectic background allowed her to really dive into the material,” said Feshold.
Darek C. Baczewski has performed in the Tampa area in interactive theatre opportunities.
“A published author, and creative writing professor at St. Leo’s University, Darek was able to connect both academically with the language as well as from a comedic angle to help develop the performance,” said Feshold.
Steven Phillips has experience as a mainstay of the convention scene and alternative performance environment in the Tampa area.
“He is diving into the traditional theatre world with a ton of energy. He’s one of the best and most challenging actors one can work with, eminently experienced, yet technically raw,” said Feshold. “All the same he was able to help create the show that you’ll see on the stage.”
This show, says the director, “was a massive ensemble undertaking, where as much as I along with my assistant director worked to create our artistic vision, we also worked very hard to keep the communication environment open because this show performs best when the heart of the actors exists through it all.”
Feshold hopes that audience members will be both entertained and educated as they enjoy “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged).”
“I hope people walk away from the show with a laugh in their heart and a new respect for the works for both Shakespeare and improvisation,” said the director.