Monday, September 22, 2014
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Review: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

Fever Dream Repertory takes on Reduced Shakespeare Company's The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) with varying degrees of success, and failure. Review by Wendy Rosenfield

Review: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

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By Wendy Rosenfield

For the Inquirer

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

If Shakespeare is a large-scale draw, chumming the waters for big funders and audiences, Fever Dream Repertory knows The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is more like a time-tested hand-tied lure. Trading on Will’s good name, this blitzkrieg through the bard promises a silly, rollicking, partially improvised good time, and shows up just about every season, tights on, skull in hand. 

The show’s mixture of young, enthusiastic talent and family-friendly content has been a sure thing thing since its debut in the early 1980s as the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s renaissance faire lark. Since then, that other RSC created abridged versions of America, the bible, Hollywood, and so on. If Nunsense can wring a theatrical franchise from greeting cards, why not RSC founders Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, from every piece of creative and/or historical material ever written?

Of course, the original remains the company’s most popular, requiring very little prior knowledge of its subject matter, but rewarding whatever one might possess, and the three gentlemen of Fever Dream, Cubby Altobelli, J. Oliver Donahue and Ian Boston McCafferty, attempt to make it their own, with varying degrees of success. This is also because the team has varying degrees of skill, with a sharp McCafferty at the top, Altobelli representing humor’s easy, vomit-spewing, howling-in-drag-with-beard middle ground, and Donahue at the bottom, as wobbly straight man. The show’s first act offers ambitious performers the most latitude, and again, their level of innovation varies. I shame-facedly admit Altobelli and Donahue’s riff on Romeo’s “Call me but love” made me chuckle out loud (Altobelli: “Buttlove? Is that an upgrade? Hello, Fever Dream Productions, this is Buttlove.”), but McCafferty’s dead-on Iron Chef-meets-Titus Andronicus segment rests on the just-weird-enough side of edgy to qualify as a clever concept.

Act two consists entirely of a series of Hamlet speed rounds with slight variations each time.  I’ve seen crack troupes take on this part of the show like a SWAT team, powering through Hamlet’s plot points, working them at cardio-level tempo, and skewering Ophelia harder than the Great Dane himself. I’m not entirely sure where director Shoshanna Ruth decided to step in--maybe she’s the one who raided the area’s Halloween Adventure superstores for props--but here, the trio limps along like Polonius: amusing, but inconsequential and ineffective. 

Playing at: Skybox at the Adrienne Theatre, Third floor, 2030 Sansom St., Philadelphia. Through Sat., Oct. 29. Tickets: $20 to $25. Information: 267-997-3799.

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About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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