In the past week I've had two acquaintances tell me that Shakespeare just isn't their thing. "It's so boring," one whispered shamefacedly. "Oh, the language!" another boldly exclaimed. "Who can understand it?"
I expect they'll be staying away from the current offering from Orlando Shakespeare Theater, "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)." And that's too bad, because I think they would both enjoy it.
What's that you say? You aren't a Shakespeare fan either? Well, you might like this fine comic production, too.
That's right: Comic. In "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)," three actors clown their way through references and rough sketches of the great playwrights' works, with an emphasis on the best-known: "Romeo and Juliet," "Othello," "Hamlet."
It's a dizzy, affectionate mocking of the world's best-known playwright, peppered to great effect with pop-culture references and local jokes.
Director Jim Helsinger has created a vibe that makes it seem as though his three actors are winging it. In fact, their comic timing, vocal intonations and facial expressions often make the slapstick-y material rise above itself.
Philip Nolen's delivery of key lines is pitch perfect — even when he's insulting his audience. "They don't know Shakespeare from shine-ola," he stage whispers to a partner in the merry mayhem. And he's at the center of the show's most striking image: In his oversized pantaloons, forlornly clutching a pink streamer and a limp, rubber chicken as his fellow actors flee the stage.
Christopher Patrick Mullens — described as "Ocoee's pre-eminent Shakespearean scholar" — is amusingly prickly and ridiculous. His high-strung persona has a bit of a breakdown in the second act, but it's understandable, the audience is told, because "he's been through a lot … what with Dwight Howard leaving the Magic and everything."
Rounding out the trio is Brad DePlanche, who unfortunately is required to pretend to vomit a time or two too many. With a bright-eyed doofus characterization, though he gamely soldiers on — even when his speech on Shakespeare gets mixed up with Hitler's biography: "So in 1939 ... Shakespeare invaded Poland…" he stoically intones.
Flying fast and furious are references to everyone from teen heartthrob Justin Bieber to Gov. Rick Scott, TV personality Anderson Cooper to British boy band One Direction, even a few shout-outs to Disney's defunct entertainment complex Pleasure Island.
"Othello" becomes a rap song, "Titus Andronicus" a bloody cooking show.
If this all sounds like the kind of silliness you might find in a fringe festival, it is. Authors Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield first performed the show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1987.
They fell victim to the trap of many a Fringe-style show: A clever concept that gets stretched out a little too long. A second-act audience-participation segment, especially, feels like deliberate padding.
But for Shakespeare fans and foes alike, the Shakes' congenial production is a nifty little treat.
'The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)'
• What: An Orlando Shakespeare Theater production of the comedy by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield
• Length: 1:50, including intermission
• Where: Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St., Orlando
• When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays and two Wednesdays, Sept. 19 and 26; through Oct. 7
• Tickets: $17-$40
• Call: 407-447-1700
• Online: OrlandoShakes.org