This was a hoot.
As the back cover says, “the Reduced Shakespeare Company‘s classic farce” presents, after a fashion, all 37 plays and does something
to with the sonnets in just over 90 minutes of stage time. They do the comedies all at once, in a bit
JESS: … which I have entitled The Comedy of Two Well-Measured Gentlemen Lost in the Merry Wives of Venice on a Midsummer’s Twelfth Night in Winter. Or …
DANIEL: [Reading the cover] Cymbeline Taming Pericles the Merchant in the Tempest of Love as Much as You Like it for Nothing.
JESS: Act One! A Bohemian duke swears an oath of celibacy, turns the rule of the city over to his tyrannical brother, and sets sail for the Golden Age of Greece. While rounding the heel of Italy, the duke’s ship is caught in a terrible tempest that casts him up on a desert island along with his sweet, innocent, and clueless young daughter.
ADAM/PRINCESS: O dear father, I am so lonely and pubescent on this island! I am sad, boo-hoo. And frisky, rrarr.
DANIEL/DUKE: O precious daughter, watch out for symbols of colonial oppression lurking in caves, witing for virgins.
ADAM/PRINCESS: ‘Kay, b-bye!
JESS: Meanwhile, the duke’s long-lost son, a handsome, dashing, clueless young merchant, is also shipwrecked—coincidentally, on the very same island.
DANIEL/MERCHANT: How shall I survive without funds in this strange, foreign land? I know, I must eeds find me an old Jew! Behold, here cometh a convenient Judeo Italian stereotype now.
It continues at a relentless pace, sometimes with more actual Shakespeare, sometimes with more meta and breaking of the fourth wall. The histories are done as an American football game.
JESS/ANNOUNCER: … And the crown is snapped to Richard the Second, that well-spoken fourteenth century monarck. He’s fading back to pass, looking for an heir downfield, but there’s a heavy rush from King John.
[JESS as KING JOHN stabs DANIEL as RICHARD]
DANIEL/RICHARD II: “My gross flesh sinks downwards!”
JESS/ANNOUNCER: The crown is in the air, and Henry the Sixth comes up with it!
ADAM/HENRY VI: Victory is mine!
DANIEL/ANNOUNCER: But he’s hit immediately by King John. Oh no! He’s cutting Henry the Sixth into three parts, that’s gotta hurt!
[KING JOHN slices up HENRY.]
This could be the end of the War of the Roses cycle!
[KING JOHN grabs the crown and runs in place with it.]
ADAM/ANNOUNCER: King John is in the clear…
JESS/KING JOHN: “My soul hath elbow room!”
ADAM/ANNOUNCER: He’s at the forty, the thirty, the twenty—[DANIEL sneaks up from behind and pantomimes pouring something into JESS’s mouth]—ooh, but he’s poisoned on the ten-yard line! [DANIEL snatches the crown and puts it on. JESS exits.] Looks like he’s out for the game. Replacing him now is number seventy-two, King Lear.
DANIEL/LEAR: To Regan and Goneril I hand off my kingdom. Cordelia, you go long…
[JESS enters, throwing a penalty flag and blowing a whistle.]
ADAM/ANNOUNCER: There’s a penalty marker!
[JESS makes a hand signal and points at LEAR.]
Fictional character on the field. Lear is disqualified, and he’s not happy about it.
DANIEL/LEAR: [Disappointed.] Bastards.
I would love to see this performed some time.