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Shakespeare inside out

'The audience doth crack up too much'

Posted: Thursday, February 13, 2003

If a dusty old copy of "The Complete Works of Shakespeare" got drunk on Jagermeister and had a tryst with the sight-gag-a-minute 1970s movie "Airplane," the offspring likely would be "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)."

Theatre in the Rough is producing the rowdy theatrical comedy, which opens this weekend.

"It's absolutely wild," said Director Katie Jensen. "If you were ever frightened of Shakespeare, you should come see this show. This was produced for groundlings by groundlings to get Shakespeare out on the street."

"The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)," by Jess Bjorgerson, Danile Singer and Adam Long, opens at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14, at McPhetres Hall, and runs at the same time Thursdays through Saturdays until March 8. A pay-as-you-can show is at 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20. Tickets are $14 at Hearthside Books and $16 at the door.

Theatre in the Rough has done numerous creative, but relatively straight, productions of Shakespearian plays in recent years. "The Complete Works" sashays like a shrieking drag queen across all of Shakespeare's work, condensing plots, combining similar stories, and embellishing with editorial comments, hand puppets, psychoanalysis, exorbitant vomiting and cheerleading routines.

Jensen first read the play on a road trip with her husband, actor Aaron Elmore.

"At one point he was laughing so hard he almost drove off the road," Jensen said.

Elmore, Donice Falcon and Ed Christian play Donny, Aaron and Eddy, actors tasked with representing all of the plays in the space of two hours.

Falcon, wearing a tutu and Converse All-Stars, narrates in morphing accents while Christian and Elmore pound around the stage, giving breathless, often totally-over-the-top performances, including a few sword fights. Elmore, a towering, bass-voiced actor, also spends a good deal of the show lisping about in a stringy wig, playing the roles of Juliet, Cleopatra and Ophelia.

"This is my first drag," Elmore said. "I now stand in a long line of actors in Juneau who make very plain women."

Other inventive takes on Shakespeare include an "Emeril Live" cooking show version of "Titus Andronicus," in which Falcon as "Titus Androgynous" narrates how to artfully prepare the disembodied heads of Titus' sons Martius and Quintus. At other points the actors condense all of the comedies into one puppet show staring a Spanish-speaking stuffed cat, perform Macbeth with exaggerated Scottish accents and do a musical version of "Othello" inspired by the 1970s art-rock band Queen.

The second half of "Shakespeare (Abridged)" focuses mainly on "Hamlet." The actors do their own version of the play, four times - at increasing speeds and then completely backward.

Elmore and Jensen said their mission is to poke fun at the snobby culture that exists around Shakespeare as well as the theater. They want to be accessible and funny, and in that way help to impart some of the spirit of Shakespeare's works to the audience, they said.

"I like the fact the play has a wonderful combination of respect for the material but no respect for the idolatry of the material," Elmore said. "Treating this stuff like something you are supposed to read in a classroom can be deadly - not only deadly dull but deadly to the material."

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