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'The Complete Works of William Shakespeare' delivers literary laughs

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The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised] by Water Works Theatre

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How many of Shakespeare’s extant works (38 plays, 154 sonnets, plus some odd verse) have you read or seen performed? The Water Works Theatre Company can help you close the gap between the “Romeo & Juliet” you read in high school and whichever film version of “Hamlet” may have caught your grown-up fancy. In fact, you don’t even have to forfeit a day in the park to gain all this enlightenment. Just be sure to catch ““The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised]” in Royal Oak’s Jaycee Starr Park before it closes on August 10, 2014.

This show, the annual “daylight” production, is an antic romp through the comedies, tragedies, histories and “problem plays” of the Bard of Avon. Three actors, who are determined to engage the audience in a spirit of raucous frivolity, perform hundreds of roles, armed with Nurf broadswords, regulation capes, plastic crowns and an expansive collection of women’s wigs. We feel sure Shakespeare would approve of the way his works are sliced and diced and served up to the masses in a sort of literary hero sandwich.

The cast features Andrew Papa, Zach Hendrickson and Katie Galazka under the direction of Sara Catheryn Wolf. As you can imagine, the show includes much cross-dressing, performed in the best Monty Python tradition. The show opens with “Romeo & Juliet.” Galazka, positioned as a “pre-eminent” Shakespearean scholar, reads to us from a giant book of Shakespeare’s plays. Papa, as Romeo, woos Hendrickson as the coy Juliet, while both men perform myriad roles, several quick changes, and suffer multiple gruesome deaths to bring the play to a hasty conclusion.

Even the tragedies are played for laughs. The macabre “Titus Andronicus” is presented as a cooking show. The histories are consolidated into an elaborate soccer match. And all of the comedies are combined into a single story – which sort of makes sense, given the similarity in all of their plot lines.

Act Two is devoted to “Hamlet” – which is especially fun considering that the other Shakespeare in the Park play this season is, in fact “Hamlet.” This consolidated version, however, includes some of the finer speeches without all the handwringing. Galazka starts out in the role of the Danish Prince with the big “to be or not to be” monolog, but breaks down under the pressure and can’t go through with it. Admitting that she is not an eminent nor pre-eminent Shakespeare scholar, but a “post-eminent” scholar, the men bolster her confidence and they eventually have so much fun producing “Hamlet” that they present it several more times – each performance more accelerated than the last.

Even the younger members of the audience enjoyed the performance – because the actors are conscientious about aiming much of the interaction their way. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Mr. Henrickson’s interpretation of the many tragic Shakespearean heroines he plays generally includes running into the audience for copious faux barfing. Or that Act One ends with Mr. Papa dropping trou. (He’s wearing boxers – it’s okay.)

So grab you blankets or beach chairs, and catch one of the final performances. Shows are scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays on August 9 and 10, and also at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, August 5 and Wednesday, August 6. Tickets ($10) are on sale online or at the park’s theatre pavilion area.

Also, “Hamlet” plays at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday night and at 5 p.m. on Sundays through August 10. Tickets ($20) are on sale now online.

Convenient parking is available at or adjacent to Starr Jaycee Park. For more information, visit the program website at www.shakespeareroyaloak.com.

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