Upstage Left, a youth theater company comprising high school and college students, excels at innovation. In recent seasons, they’ve done Thornton Wilder’s Our Town au naturel (that’s outdoors, not in the nude!), 1776 with gender-neutral casting, and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee with actual teenagers. This summer, the group presents The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) outdoors at Godric Grove in Elings Park. The show, a favorite of students, drama teachers, and audiences everywhere, began when a group of actors who frequented the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and specialized in “Reduced Shakespeare” took some of their favorite comic abridgments of the Bard and combined them into a single evening’s entertainment. The result was not only a triumph at the Fringe; it went on to run at London’s Criterion Theatre for more than nine years.
The premise of The Complete Works (Abridged) is that the plays of Shakespeare are not difficult, if you see the humor in them and don’t treat them with too much reverence. The show begins with a hilarious send-up of Romeo and Juliet, and continues rapid-fire through the entire rest of Shakespeare’s works — all before intermission. It’s then that the cast discovers two more or less serious omissions. There’s Coriolanus — that would be the less — and then there’s Hamlet, a rather significant text to have overlooked. The second act takes on Hamlet in myriad ways, each more absurd than the last, yet all thoroughly informed by a deep appreciation of the original.
Through a recent email exchange with the cast, I received a bundle of charming answers to some questions about what it’s like to play Shakespeare in these miniature versions. What follows are a few of the many entertaining answers they gave, abridged.
What play do you like best in this abridged version?
Julia Paris: My favorite play in the show is Othello. I’m not really in that scene, but Robert Rodarte, Emma Steinkellner, and Juan Garcia get to portray it in a super fun way with swag.
Phillip Hodgson: Hamlet because I get to be Hamlet, who runs around giving speeches, having emotional breakdowns, and stabbing people and such.
Are you looking at the world differently now? Do you wish you could abridge other stuff?
Emma Steinkellner: It’s not just about abridging stuff, making it shorter or simpler — SparkNotes has that covered already. Clearly this show condenses the Shakespeare oeuvre, but we also make it sassy and spicy and personal.
Allie Towbes: It would definitely make things easier if other classic texts were abridged, but I do love the original text.
Jordan Lemmond: Yes. I would love to abridge the works of Tennessee Williams in a similar fashion. It’s so often parodied; I’m not sure why no one’s already done it.
Stone Roshell: I wish everything in life could be as funny as the show, so yes, I want to abridge everything.
PH: I wish I could abridge the alphabet so I could put U and I together. Are you doing anything Saturday?
What discoveries have you made?
ES: Shakespeare is hot stuff.
AT: This show, and this cast, has taught me a lot about teamwork and trust. We’ve had to rely on each other to keep the show moving and keep our audience interested. Don’t get me wrong, though; it’s been a ton of fun.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) will be performed at Godric Grove in Elings Park on July 12, 15, and 17 at 6 p.m. For advance tickets, go to upstageleft.brownpapertickets.com. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.