Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Shakespeare Shortened

By Amy Lawrence

OCTOBER 6, 1997:  Here's a math quiz for you. How long does it take four actors to perform William Shakespeare's 15 comedies and 23 tragedies, plus recite six of his sonnets for good measure? If you guessed it would take forever, you'd be wrong. The real answer is two hours. How is this possible? Simply put, you truncate the Bard.

The Theatre Memphis Little Theatre's opening production in the '97-'98 season is The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged), a comedic production of 44 of Shakespeare's comedies, tragedies, and sonnets. The play combines irreverence and fun in its portrayal of Shakespeare's canon, and is being pitched by director Patti Hatchett as "the only show in the world that does Shakespeare from A to Z in two hours."

Hatchett stresses the importance of recognizing the humorous side of Shakespeare's works, pointing to how reverentially the material is handled in modern productions, even the comedies. "In school, Shakespeare was always portrayed as this heavy, dramatic, British talk," says Hatchett. "Our play makes it funny. Also, it's important for today's generation to know Shakespeare, because the issues dealt with 400 years ago are the same issues we deal with today -- human elements such as passion, rage, love, lust, and power."

Hatchett says she hopes to challenge audiences' prior assumptions as to how a Shakespearean comedy or tragedy should be staged or interpreted. In her desire to make the works of Shakespeare accessible for younger generations as well as for people not generally accustomed to thinking of a production of Shake-spearean drama and poetry as an opportunity to laugh and be entertained, Hatchett changed some of the social and political references to present a more up-to-date and local significance.

When asked about the references that were changed in the play, Hatchett explains that in the play's notes, the three playwrights -- Jess Borgeson, Daniel Singer, and Adam Long -- suggest that some parts, referring to people and events in the 1980s, when the play was written, may be altered for the sake of presenting a more present-day feel in the material. "Well, we have our obligatory Elvis reference, which is very important in Memphis, Tennessee!" Hatchett says. "We decided not to refer to the Oilers, though. And we did not include references [originally in the play]to Princess Di and Charles, out of respect for the present situation. One reference to a soap-opera character who was popular in the '80s, we changed to another soap-opera character. We changed a lot of little things that people may or may not catch."

In addition to changes in the script, there is a marked difference in the way that the play is staged and costumed. "This play is not set as if it is done at a Renaissance Fair -- some details might be from that time period, but it is a mish-mash of the young men's vision of what Shakespeare is like," says Hatchett. The four actors who face the task of playing up to 14 characters are Bryan Cournoyer, Tucker Curtis, Lynn Talley and Park G. Jarrett IV. The costumes are by Laura Lopas; set and lighting design by Corey Shelsta; sound design by Don J. Eller; and props by Jarrett, Cournoyer, Curtis, Lucy Wallace, and Nancy and James Schroeder. The stage manager is Louise Casini.

The task of the production staff and actors is made more difficult by the fact that this is not simply "Shakespeare's greatest hits." For every familiar quote by Hamlet or Juliet, there's a line from Pericles (remember him?) or the ever-not-popular Coriolanus. The challenge is to successfully parody works the audience has never even heard of. That requires inventiveness and the ability to sum up a dramatic situation in just a few words, for as Polonius reminds us, brevity is the soul of wit.

So the question for The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr is not, to be or not to be -- just be concise.

The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)
Theatre Memphis; October 2nd-19th, $8; $7 for age 18 and under
Call 682-8323 to order tickets or for more details.


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