If you’re like the rest of us and the very name Shakespeare makes you run toward Netflix and a Breaking Bad binge, give Will Shupe and his band of merry men 90 minutes; you might just hear something familiar.
The Elite Theatre company’s new production speaks to the easily distracted contemporary mind, the one more likely to be LOL’ing than pondering whether or not to be. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (Revised) updates the heavy tradition of Shakespeare’s language for a high-speed broadband world.
Much of the Elite’s production is performed in the spirit of improvised theatre. Consequently, Shupe has assembled a cast of the most fit thespians available, trained and schooled in both acting and acrobatics, as likely to quote from Inglourious Basterds as they would the works of the Bard. In contemporary terms, this is will.i.am Shakespeare.
The show begins with longtime local actor and all-around good guy Shupe proposing the concept of boiling down the complete catalog of Shakespeare’s works into an essential 90-minute overview. With only a pair of trained improvisational actors, a stage and more wigs and props than a Carrot Top show, he more than succeeds.
Joined by Evan Patrick Smith and Austin Robert Miller, the trio builds upon the presentation of the Bard’s complete works until it crescendos in an audience-interactive scene, helping Hamlet drive Ophelia mad. Everything is covered; even all of Shakespeare’s sonnets have been boiled down to a single haiku. Romeo and Juliet is performed in 12 hilarious minutes.
Before it’s all over, Miller is running around acting like a lion-late-in-her-career Katherine Hepburn and being dragged kicking and screaming back from Oxnard Airport.
The “Scottish play” MacBeth? Kilts and golf clubs. Othello? The story of an “Italian-African gentleman.” All the while, the wigs and props keep coming. And hand puppets. And I’m pretty sure the original Hamlet didn’t end with the line “We’re going to Disneyland!” But I think I like this version better.
And though the show opens with a plea to set aside electronic attractions such as television in order to embrace Shakespeare (done “without further much ado”), it turns out that even Shupe can’t resist the contemporary; his Hamlet reads Maxim magazine and loves General Hospital.
If you were ever a kid in school who despised reading Shakespeare, clearly you weren’t alone. And at Elite Theater, your ship has come in — even if you had to sail through The Tempest to get there.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (Revised) through March 29 at Elite Theatre Company, 2731 S. Victoria Ave. 483-5118 or www.elitetheatre.org.