Kentucky Shakespeare opened their 51st season of free performances in Central Park last week with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: Abridged, a comedy created for the 1987 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The creators were three Americans: Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield who eventually took the show to London’s Criterion Theatre where it ran for a record 9 years and received a 1997 nomination for the Olivier Award.
The Kentucky Shakespeare production is directed by the company’s Producing Artistic Director Brantley M. Dunaway who took over as leader of the company just over a year ago. Originally created as a vehicle with lots of room for improvisation Compete Works demands a cast that is nimble, high-energy and willing to put themselves on the line for every performance. Dunaway has found that in Ash Law Edwards, Kevin Rich and Kyle Curry.
|Ash Law Edward|
Watching these three put me in mind of a late night cram session at Delta Tau Chi (a.k.a. Animal House) as Bluto, Otter and Pinto frantically try to cover an entire semester’s work in ninety minutes.
After a half-hour hold for passing rain clouds Saturday evening’s performance got underway around 9:00 p.m. During the pause the audience was regaled with a soundtrack that included the music of the B52’s, Bob Dylan and other just-as-incongrous selections. Finally Edwards stepped to the front of the stage, tore down the fourth wall and, in a slightly befuddled manner appropriate to the tone of the production, prepared the audience for what was to come. After some historical perspective on the plays from Rich, who brings a wry, quasi-cerebral note to the production and a fractured account of the Bard’s early life accumulated and regurgitated by Curry, the trio presented an original 12-minute interpretation of Shakespeare’s most well-known play Romeo and Juliet. Drawing from their own strange ideas, pop culture and the numerous variations on the story, most notably Natalie Wood’s riff on Juliet from Jerome Robbins’ West Side Story (1961), the trio gives a very original interpretation of Shakespeare’s words. I have to say that I had never considered Romeo’s relationship to Tybalt in quite that way before. If Dunaway’s concept for the balcony scene is indicative of the creativity we can expect the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival is due for a renaissance.
The Complete Works zooms through Shakespeare’s comedies, most of the tragedies and the histories before intermission. Act II opens with Edwards, alone again, vamping the sonnets. Much of the second act is devoted to what is perhaps Shakespeare’s most important work, Hamlet. This includes a thorough, audience-enhanced, psychoanalytical consideration of Ophelia portrayed, in the Elizabethan tradition, by a sometimes recalcitrant Curry (who also handles Juliet and most of the other female characters). This portion of the show is very funny and works best with a large, enthusiastic audience so I encourage you to bring as many of friends as possible when going to see The Complete Works of William Shakespeare–it won’t cost you anything and you will all have a great time. The season opener continues through June 26. Performances begin at 8:30 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday with a pre-show beginning at 7:30 p.m.
Most of the seats are available for a free-will donation, but preferred seating is available up front on a first-come basis for a $20 donation.
The season, with its enhanced festival status including performances by the University of Louisville, the University of Kentucky and the Louisville Youth Choir, continues on June 29 with Shakespeare’s As You Like It. The spoof on Elizabethan conventions of romantic love is directed by Rob Clare, an internationally known interpreter of Shakespeare and former member of of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Look for an interview with Mr. Clare and more about Kentucky Shakespeare including calendar listings at www.Arts-Louisville.com.