|Brooks Reeves cooks up some comedy as Titus Andronicus.|
Just as the swallows return each spring to Capistrano, so it seems The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) returns every summer to at least one of Boston's stages.
And why not? It's a cute show, ideal for a college town (it was first designed for the Edinburgh Fringe), with enough insider winks mixed among its broadsides to keep both Shakespeare's haters and adulators happy.
And thank God, it never wades into the shallows of all that Oxfordian foolishness; indeed, beneath its Beatrice-and-Butthead snark, the show evinces a clear desire to sneak a sense of the genius of the Man from Stratford under the current generation's cultural radar, and into hearts and minds both innocent and ignorant of just how powerful great art can be.
And it helps that more often than not, it's just plain clever. My favorite bits in this valentine/raspberry to the canon are the snappy pastiches, like the mash-up of every comic gimmick the Bard ever borrowed into something like The Twelfth Night of Much Ado about the Merrie Wives of Venice (or whatever it's called). I also always get a kick out of the chronicle of the history plays translated onto a football field (with the crown itself passed or punted over the gridiron of history).
I'm less tickled by the longer parodies of specific plays (although conveying Ophelia's confused state of mind through audience participation almost justifies an extended sojourn in Hamlet). And frankly these are not the most experienced Shakespeareans I've seen take on these sketches - so the yuks rarely have the wicked, knowing edge they can sometimes conceal. Still, the all-guy cast at Hub Theatre Company (no relation to the Hub Review, btw) always keep the blank verse bouncing, and director Lauren Elias knows to keep the gags coming - and coming (the broader the better!) - so the show has a friendly, go-for-it vibe that's consistently beguiling.
The standout in the cast was William J. Moore - the gonzo gleam in his eye, coupled with a sexily goofball grin, brought a shine to every skit he was in. But not far behind was smart, fussy Brooks Reeves, while Patrick Curran - though he struck me as a bit more of a stand-up comic than a true actor - definitely gave good "dude" whenever one of Shakespeare's heroes said something particularly stoopid. I must also note that the stage management of this onslaught of drag and gags came off without a hitch, and the space - the cabaret at Club Café - proved surprisingly congenial. As a light, literate aperitif before a night of drinks and dancing (which was what was happening next at Club Café), it could hardly be bettered - and given that the Hub Theatre is committed to a pay-what-you-can policy, the price is right, too. Through this weekend only.