The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
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The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (also known as The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)) is a play written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield that parodies the plays of William Shakespeare with all of them being performed (in comically shortened or amalgamated form) by only three actors. Typically, the actors use their real names and play themselves rather than certain characters. The fourth wall is nonexistent in the performance with the actors speaking directly to the audience during much of the play, and some scenes involve audience participation. The director and stage crew may also be directly involved in the performance and become characters themselves.
The script contains many humorous footnotes on the text that are often not included in the performance. However, improvisation plays an important role and it is normal for the actors to deviate from the script and have spontaneous conversations about the material with each other or the audience. It is also common for them to make references to pop culture or to talk about local people and places in the area where performance is done. As a result, each performance can be vastly different from another, even with the same cast.
The writers, Long, Singer, and Winfield—former founding members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company—first performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1987 and later played at the Criterion Theatre in London, where it ran for nine years. It has become one of the world's most popular shows, playing frequently in a variety of languages. It is notable for holding the world record for the shortest-ever performance of Hamlet, clocking in at 43 seconds, as well as the fastest performance of Hamlet backwards, at 42 seconds.
The three actors first introduce themselves to the audience, the first actor (Reed Martin) giving a funny reminder not to record the show in any way, the second (Austin Tichenor) giving a speech about how unappreciated William Shakespeare is and the third (Adam Long) giving a biography of Shakespeare that is mixed up with a biography of Adolf Hitler.
They begin with a parody of Romeo and Juliet. Next, they do a parody of Titus Andronicus, portraying it as a cooking show. Following it is Othello, which is done through a rap song. The rest of the first act demonstrates most of the other plays. All the comedies are combined into one convoluted reading (the justification being that they all recycle the same plot devices anyway). All the histories are acted out through an American football game with the British Crown as the football (or as a soccer match in at least one German production or an Australian Rules football game in an Australian production). Julius Caesar is reduced to his death, followed immediately by a reduction of Antony and Cleopatra, and a reduction of Macbeth to one duel while explaining all about ketchup and mustard and other elements (witches, Macbeth's downfall, etc.) in poor Scottish accents. There is also a failed attempt at scholarly discussion of the Shakespeare Apocrypha.
At the end of the act, the characters are about to finish when they realize that they forgot to perform Coriolanus which Adam refuses to do due the vulgarity of the title, and Hamlet, Shakespeare's greatest work. Adam becomes nervous and petulant about performing such a famous and difficult play, so he runs out of the theater with Austin chasing him. Reed is left alone to improvise acts such as playing the William Tell Overture on his larynx and eating fire before calling for intermission.
After the intermission, Austin and Adam return, saving Reed from having to cover the sonnets by writing them down on a 3x5 card and passing it around the audience. Adam is convinced to continue with the performance. The entire second act is the performance of Hamlet. The audience gets involved during this segment when one audience member is asked to portray Ophelia for the Nunnery Scene. The rest of the audience makes up Ophelia's subconscious, with three sections that each represent her ego, superego, and id. After the portrayal of Hamlet, the actors play it out several times increasing their speed of delivery. They finish by performing it backwards.
- Long, Adam, Daniel Singer, Jess Winfield, and Jess Borgeson. 1987. The complete works of William Shakespeare (abridged): Acting Edition. Applause.