Barbing the Bard

By Paul Wozniak

Fast-paced parody recycles Ren-Fest puns, punchlines

In any good parody there is always a level of respect conveyed for the original work — after all, imitation is the sincerest
form of flattery. In Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield’s “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged),” now showing at Williamston Theatre, the authors display a deep reverence for Shakespeare, as they tart it up with vomit gags and cross dressing.

Stylistically, “The Complete Works” is virtually identical to the slapstick, low-budget antics and bad puns usually encountered at Renaissance festivals. Though there is much to enjoy in the comedic crash course through the Bard’s works, the show’s broad delivery may fail to tickle the funny bones of those with more particular and darker comedic preferences.

Still, “The Complete Works” does offer something for everyone, and the hardworking ensemble of Aral Gribble, Keith Kalinowski and Kevin T. Young doesn’t settle for mere chuckles. From screaming at the top of their lungs to climbing up and down the set and pushing audience members out of their seats, they make a tightly blended cast who leave no gaps in the action, unless it is for a laugh.

Following the controlled chaos theory of acting, Gribble, Kalinowski and Young are literally dripping with sweat 15 minutes into the show, as they run across the stage, through the audience and through the entire theater building itself; it’s as if director Tony Caselli implanted electric prods in their pants.

All three actors switch in and out of multiple roles, although Gribble is always stuck playing the female characters, complete with his full beard. Kalinowski and Young play the straight man and the cocky idiot, respectively. Each actor knows his role well, although character depth is secondary in this farcical romp.

The strongest moments come from edgier antics, like when “Titus Andronicus” is performed as a cooking show. Performing “Hamlet” in reverse is also impressive, although mostly because no one twists an ankle while virtually tripping over each other.

Daniel C. Walker’s set and lighting design are almost too professional looking given the “B”-level nature of the show, but both elements complement the performance appropriately.

The plus side of “The Complete Works” is that one does not need to know more than “Shakespeare 101” and pop culture to appreciate every joke. The downside is that the scripted jokes are not as fresh as when they were written. Despite Caselli and the cast’s strongest efforts (and they are strong), “The Complete Works” is still overly ambitious and enjoyed best with low expectations.

‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)’
Through Aug. 9
8 p.m. Thursday & Friday
3 p.m. & 8 p.m. Saturday
2 p.m. Sunday
Williamston Theatre, 122 S. Putnam St., Williamston
(517) 655-SHOW