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Grate actrs rap way thru 'Compleat Wrks'

THE COMPLEAT WRKS OF WLLM SHKSPR (ABRIDGED), a Salt Lake Shakespeare production; Babcock Stage, lower level of the Roy W. and Elizabeth E. Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre building, University of Utah campus; continues Thursdays-Sundays at 7:30 p.m. through June 20. Tickets available through ArtTix (355-2787). Admission is $10 for adults and $6 for students and senior citizens. Seating is not reserved. Running Time: 2 hours (one 15-minute intermission).Soft! Methinks the mirth doth overpow'r

The Bard's compleat works in ne'er two hours!

If 'tis true that "Brevity is the soul of wit,"

These players with soul, for sooth,

be "down with it."

It is shocking, irreverent and not for the high-brow purists among us.

Nevertheless, Salt Lake Shakespeare's presentation of "The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)" at the Babcock Theatre is muscle-clenching, teary-eyed, lucky-to-catch-your-breath fun.

It is the only time you will see a World Wrestling Federation-style "back breaker" in "Romeo and Juliet," or "Othello" performed as a two-minute rap, complete with fly dancers. It is also the only time -- please let it be the only time -- Juliet will ever cut a rug to Barry Manilow's "Copacabana," ("Where music and passion were always in fashion") and the only time the famous "play within a play" scene from "Hamlet" will be performed with gusto, using sock puppets.

Don't get the wrong idea, though. Despite the fact that three members of the "Reduced Shakespeare Company"-- Edward Webster, Rory Kozoll and Matthew Mullaney -- get to poke fun at 37 Shakespeare plays in less than two hours, this is not a careless, thrown-together production.

No, "The Compleat Wrks" as performed by these three is more like Shakespeare step aerobics, performed at warp speed to the jaunty tunes of "The Village People" while breathing deeply from a tank of laughing gas.

The play was written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield with liberal sprinklings of local and timely jests added by the players. It is thoughtful, creative and perfectly tailored to those of us who in middle school secretly longed for someone to tell us what the heck Hamlet was talking about. Though it helps if audiences at least are familiar with some of the Bard's more famous works, there's fun enough for all.

Webster, Kozoll and Mullaney are a charismatic team. Webster and Kozoll have performed this production together before; Mullaney steps in seamlessly to complete the trio. Each has remarkable comedic timing. They are natural, unpretentious performers, with a bent for physical, "Three Stooges" humor. Their synopsis of "Macbeth" performed "in perfect Scottish accents" and "Titus Andronicus" as a Julia Child-meets-Norman Bates cooking show are priceless.

There are also moments when the audience gets a glimpse of how well these players understand the Bard's original material and the respect the writers actually have for him. Witness Kozoll's thoughtful "What a Piece of Work is Man" soliloquy from "Hamlet," during which the audience is stilled by the sudden depth of the dialogue, or Webster's "To Be or Not to Be," which is smart and serious . . . until his character breaks down over the heartwrenchingly unjust court conviction of his favorite soap opera character.

And, if audiences listen closely, they'll find they actually get a fairly solid synopsis of many of Shakespeare's more prominent works, even in the midst of the silliness. Go see it.

Sensitivity rating: some mild sexual innuendo in a few of the jokes.