To see, or not to see. That's not the question. If you're up for a frivolous parody of the entire Shakespeare cannon, then you must see The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). It's silly and pointless, but you'll love every moment of it.
As to be expected from the title, the short play condenses all of Shakespeare's plays into one short performance, as told by three actors. The text-written by the play's original performers, Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield-is a frothy hodge-podge of slapstick-filled sketches and clownish behavior. Some of the best bits include a skit involving a cooking show hosted by Titus Andronicus, an Othello-based rap song, and the staging of all of Shakespeare's histories as a football game.
A play this wacky and whimsical needs three strong comedic actors to pull it off, and the cast of this production is absolutely perfect. Jason O'Brien is a likeable master of ceremonies, Cameron Bergeron is tons of fun as the nerdy, self-proclaimed Shakespeare scholar, and Michael Jastroch is hysterical as the dim bulb of this motley crew. Together, the three are a palpable force to be reckoned with that leaves the audience howling with laughter. I'd be shocked if anyone, Shakespeare fan or otherwise, could get through their over-the-top skewering of the world's best beloved plays without at least a chuckle.
If I can be nitpicky though, there are a few weaknesses in the direction by Ben Schave. While Schave ensures that the show is the fast-paced, silly romp that indeed it should be, some of the shtick doesn't work quite as well. A few segments and moments are punctuated with dozens of hand gestures and sight gags, and some moments just go by too fast. Schave doesn't need to try to make the play or the performers funny. The humor's in there. A little more trust in the material and performers and a bit of variance in terms of tone and pacing would turn this into one of the strongest comedies of the Austin theatre season.
But the small issues aside, this is one enjoyable night of theatre. The play is indeed the thing.
Photo: (L to R) Jason O'Brien, Michael Jastroch, and Cameron Bergeron in Paradox Player's THE COMPLETE WORKS OF William Shakespeare (ABRIDGED)
Recommended for audiences 15 and up.
THE COMPLETE WORKS OF William Shakespeare (ABRIDGED) plays the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin at 4700 Grover St, Austin now thru February 24th.
Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm with an additional performance on February 14th at 8pm.
Tickets are $15 general admission and $10 students and seniors. For tickets and information, please visit www.paradoxplayers.org