Review: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

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.