For its second season, Salt Lake Shakespeare is not only offering discounted subscription packages (three shows for the price of two). It's also among the handful of theaters nationwide mounting a production of the Off Broadway hit, "The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)" - a high-velocity parody of all 37 Shakespearean plays . . . and the sonnets.
Snapping up "The Compleat Works . . . " is really quite a coup. The New York-based Reduced Shakespeare Company, which first staged the show, is taking the critically acclaimed comedy on tour. But because Salt Lake City is not among the "major cities" on RSC's itinerary, the Utah company - after a considerable amount of long-distance dickering - was able to procure the rights for the regional premiere.The Salt Lake Shakespeare company will stage "The Compleat Works . . . " at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays, June 13-30 in the Babcock Theatre.
Adapted by Jess Borgeson, Adam Long and Daniel Singer and edited by Jess M. Winfield, the irreverent comedy was conceived in the mid-1980s when RSC, which had already packaged "Hamlet" and `Romeo and Juliet" into one abbreviated evening, was considering the prospects of performing at the renowned Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland.
An actor who admired RSC's work suggested that since they had knocked off two of Shakespeare's works in about 40 minutes, they could probably do "The Compleat Works" in about an hour. This comment - plus the requirement that all Fringe shows must be full-length productions - motivated the creative threesome to do just that.
If you're into Monty Python or maybe even the Three Stooges, it's a pretty safe bet you'll get a kick out of "The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)."
Co-directors Craig Rich and Dax Kiger recently made a valiant attempt to explain in just a few minutes what the show is all about. A mere description is nice - but this is obviously one of those "it has to be seen to be believed" kind of shows.
Act One will take audiences through 36 of the Bard's 37 plays, ranging from all of the histories lumped together as a football game (with the crown being tossed back and forth) to "Titus Andronicus" being staged as a cooking show. (What the Babcock Theatre concessions stand will do with this is anyone's guess.)
Act Two will focus entirely on "Hamlet" . . . done four times (fast, faster, then warp-speed and - just to prove that the actors really do know their Shakespeare backwards and forwards - the backwards version).
By comparison, the Cliffs Notes versions of Shakespeare's classics could be categorized as encyclopedic, in-depth treatises.
Obviously, Shakespeare scriptorians aren't going to be able to follow along word for word. Most of the words, not to mention quite a few minor characters, will be missing. "Abridged" is a disclaimer to be taken seriously.
For some tidbits of background about the work, here's a paragraph from the appendix of the script:
"The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged) received its first performance in a pre-Edinburgh tryout at the Paramount Ranch in Agoura, Calif., in June 19, 1987. Exactly why the show premiered on the Old West set of a studio backlot is unclear now but it seemed like a good idea at the time. With the ghosts of John Wayne and Gary Cooper looking on in ethereal astonishment, the RSC blasted through the Bard's works to rapturous applause and standing ovations from all 350 corporeal beings there assembled. When asked whether he liked the show, the ghost of Cooper hauntingly mouthed the single syllable, `Nope.' Wayne's ghost disappeared the instant Adam Long put on a dress."
THE LOCAL PRODUCTION: Neither Craig Rich nor Dax Kiger, the co-directors, have seen "The Compleat Works . . . " staged.
"Dax and I were in New York in January and found a copy of the script in the Drama Book Shop. We thought it would be a great way to open the season," said Rich. "We were told that there would be a national tour and the rights were being withheld from all of the major cities."
Salt Lake Shakespeare's artistic director, Alexander Gelman, added that he and his colleagues went through several long-distance conversations with the agents before finally acquiring local production rights.
"Maybe they felt it was easier to just give us the rights than being hounded daily, or maybe they appreciated our persistence," he said, noting that "We're a young company that performs Shakespeare with, perhaps, less reverence than other companies. We're a perfect match (for `Compleat Works . . . ') given the thrust of our work and our audiences."
Kiger explained that the script was originally written to be performed by the three gentlemen who wrote it.
The SLS version will feature the talents of three local actors - Mark Larson and Rene Thornton Jr., both of whom had major roles in Salt Lake Acting Company's highly acclaimed productions of "Angels in America" (parts one and two) and Dylan M. McCullough.
"We've taken it and manipulated it so it will work for the three who are in it," said Kiger. "We've added some local flair, but most of all we have tried to fit the script to the actors. We have three actors who are extremely talented."
Gelman noted that the first speech in the play is excerpted from "As You Like It" and the first condensed play in the script is "Romeo and Juliet" - both of which will round out Salt Lake Shakespeare's 1996 summer season.
With lots of costume changes, the scenery itself will be relatively simple and basically "Elizabethanesque."
Thornton, who played Belize in "Angels in America," will have lots of silly wigs in this show. He'll play 15 different characters, including Juliet, Gertrude, Tibalt, Lavinia and Cleopatra.
Larson has 11 roles and McCullough plays 10 characters in the production.
The frenetic pace will include "Macbeth" with perfect (i.e., incomprehensible) Scottish accents, the histories performed as a football game (with the crown being tossed back and forth . . . and King Lear being disqualified because he never really existed), "Othello" reinvented as a rap and the comedies merged into one "Love Boat Goes to Verona" segment.
"It's a real misnomer that we try to `contemporize' Shakespeare's works," said Gelman. "We don't - and they don't need any help from us. We just want to do them differently from the ways others have. We want to remove the film of antiquity . . . the layers of all the previous productions. The plays themselves will live on, but each new production is like a butterfly with a short lifespan.
"Our focus continues to be that we do them not because they're old and revered, but because they're fabulous plays. I like to think that if one of these plays came across my desk as a new script, I'd jump right on it. These plays are still contemporary. They're the most modern thing around. `As You Like It' (July 11-28) deals with city life vs. country life. When I lived in New York for six years, everyone I knew had a goal of moving to the `country,' which was Connecticut," Gelman said.
THE LOCAL TEAM of actors and directors have impressive credentials, including considerable work on the Babcock Stage.
- Alexander Gelman, who is head of the University of Utah's MFA Directing program, directed this past season's production of "The Threepenny Opera" at the Babcock, and the recent Utah Opera production of "The Prodigal Son" at Cathedral of the Madelaine.
He received his MFA in directing at Boston University (where, ironically, his last stint as an actor, playing Leo in "Chapter Two," was directed by Austin Tichenor - who is now in the Reduced Shakespeare Company's "Compleat Works" ensemble).
Gelman will direct both "As You Like It" and "Romeo and Juliet" for SLS, and is scheduled to direct the 1996 Greek Theatre Festival production of Euripides' "Orestes."
- Craig Rich, who just completed his first year as an MFA directing candidate at the U. of U., recently directed Stephen Dietz' "Lonely Planet" in the Lab Theatre. Later this summer both Rich and Kiger will be working with the Tributary Theatre in Moab, and Rich will tackle the role of Menelaos in "Orestes" this fall.
He moved to Salt Lake from Cleveland, where he was acting artistic director of the Working Theatre. He was assistant director for the American premiere of Vaclav Havel's "Redevelopment or Slum Clearance" and the world premiere of Harry Kondoleon's last play, "Saved or Destroyed."
- Dax Kiger, like Rich, has also just finished his first year as an MFA Directing Candidate at the U.
Recent Salt Lake directorial gigs include Paula Vogel's "Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief" and Harold Pinter's "The Lover." He has worked for the Utah Shakespearean Festival, the New Harmony Project in Indiana, McCorkle Casting in New York and Salt Lake Acting Co. He'll direct "True West" for Moab's Tributary Theatre.
- Mark Larson most recently portrayed Prior Walter in Parts 1 and 2 of Tony Kushner's "Angels in America" at SLAC. Other recent roles include Fyedka in Pioneer Theatre Co.'s "Fiddler on the Roof" and Estragon/Gogo in "Waiting for Godot." In 1992, he performed at the Kennedy Center as one of 16 national award winners in the Irene Ryan acting competition.
- Rene Thornton Jr. has just completed his third year of the Actor Training Program at the U. of U. In addition to "Angels in America" he has also appeared in such Babcock productions as "Red Noses," "Edward II" and "Our Country's Good" and the Greek Theatre Festival production of "Medea." He also performed in "South Pacific" at Sundance and "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Romeo and Juliet" for Pioneer Theatre Co.
- Dylan M. McCullough graduated from the U. of U. in June with a BFA in acting. Previous Babcock credits include "Measure for Measure," "The Threepenny Opera," "Red Noses," "Three Sisters" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream." In August, he'll move to Washington, D.C., to begin work as an intern with the Shakespeare Theatre. He recently directed the Lab Theatre production of "Someone Who'll Watch Over Me."
Subscriptions for the 1996 Salt Lake Shakespeare season in the Babcock Theatre are $16 for adults and $12 for students and senior citizens. The three-for-two tickets will admit patrons to "The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)," June 13-30; "As You Like It," July 11-28 and "Romeo and Juliet," Aug. 8-25.
Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays. For group rates or season subscriptions, call 581-6689. Single tickets ($8 for adtuls and $6 for students and senior citizens) are available through ArtTix outlets (355-2787) or at the door.
The Babcock Theatre is located on the lower level of the Pioneer Memorial Theatre building, 300 S. 1340 East (Broadway at University). Free parking is available directly south of PMT.
Free post-play discussions will be the second Friday of each production (June 21, July 19 and Aug. 16).