Shakespeare has long been the butt of jokes and the subject of moans in classrooms. Though considered foundational to many curricula, his 500-year-old prose can be impenetrable. To resolve that issue and address many of the Bard’s prepubescent critics’, Tuesday Night Café Theatre (TNC) presented The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) in their 2020 debut production.
Performed Jan. 15-18 by the combined creative geniuses of actors Mitchel Csermak, Nick Vecchione, and Antoine Guimbal, all three U2 Arts, The Complete Works is a blindingly fast-paced romp through all 38 of Shakespeare’s plays. The three third-year theatre students carried off the ambitious production with minimalist set design and masterful theatre-making skills. Plays were cut to the barest of bones—the first run through of Hamlet takes 12 minutes, but we get a bonus 30 second version as well. Highlights include the ‘comedic lump’ constituted by all 16 of Shakespeare’s comedies.
Given the aforementioned moan-inducing nature of Shakespearean English, playwrights Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield’s script does a neat job of stripping back well-known plots to their familiar tropes. These tropes constitute the building blocks of much of modern cinema, from romantic comedies to heist films. For that reason, audience members did not need to have enjoyed their middle school English classes, or even have read any Shakespeare, to enjoy the show and get the antics.
Admirably, some of the best-known Shakespearean embellishments, including fart jokes and exits pursued by bears, survive the scripts’ zealous trimming of the Shakespearean canon. Even though the script only retains a handful of lines from such classics as Romeo & Juliet, actors perform the most famous lines in the original language. Viewers unfamiliar with original text could still enjoy Shakespeare’s texts, as any original readings were sandwiched between jokes original to the script and the three theatre students’ highly entertaining physical comedy. Audiences were treated to a rendition of the famous balcony scene, along with dialogue questioning the importance of the balcony itself.
The efforts of the actors are no small contribution to the success of this particular production. The trio constructed famous battlements or balconies in a hexagonal black box space with no more than a single costume or prop to each of the three actors. Each only momentarily leaving stage after they have entered it—usually to seize another rough-looking but fully functional prop or costume piece. Vecchione conjured each female character with a single tousled wig and his feminine charms.
As both actors and producers, Vecchione, Csermak, and Guimbal delivered a high-powered, fast-paced, no doubt exhausting show that left their audience gasping with laughter. Despite the huge efforts required on the part of the actors, they never let the strain show, maintaining excellent comedic timing throughout.
Student theatre at McGill does a lot with a little. However, this production went above and beyond, allowing the ability of the actors to transport their audience through Shakespeare’s canon. It is a pleasure to write about a student production at this caliber, and to laud The Complete Works as an absolute success. TNC’s 2020 dramatic season at McGill is off to a very strong start.
TNC’s next production, Bhopal, runs Feb. 19–22, 7:30 p.m. at Tuesday Night Café Theatre (3485 McTavish St.). Tickets are $10 for general public and $6 for students/seniors. Reserve tickets at [email protected]