by Beki Pineda

THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED) – Written by Adam Long, Danial Singer, and Jess Winfield; Directed by Katie Mangett. Produced by Lowry’s Spotlight Theater (The John Hand Theater, 7653 East 1st Place, Denver) through July 21. Tickets available at 720-530-4596 or thisisspotlight.com.

A truly funny show – think NOISES OFF – is always the funniest the first time you see it. The surprising twists – the witty dialogue – the physical schtick – is always most enjoyable when it’s unexpected and new. Having seen the ABRIDGED SHAKESPEARE at least four times previously – once by the original company who developed it – I had relatively low expectations of being surprised or more than mildly amused by the current Spotlight production at the Hand Theater. WRONG AGAIN!!

The three players explaining Shakespeare to the audience – Luke Rahmsdorff-Terry, Ben Hilzer, and Sam Gilstrap – are totally comfortable without a fourth wall. Their comfort level extends to each other as well. They know that whatever unexpected thing happens on stage – as is likely to happen with this type of production involving the audience – they can handle it together. Sam – usually a very serious actor – tried very hard to bring some gravitas to the proceedings . . . to no avail. Luke goes along to get along and tries mightily to keep the evening on track and moving forward. Also a nearly impossible task because of the third member of the troupe. Ben Hilzer is all over the place, using his elastic face and un-selfconscious body to create chaos. He’s having too much fun to care if it makes sense. He loves running up into the audience to create a little mischief and to get things off track . . . again.

Despite the stoner attitude, they have actually picked up a thing or two about Shakespeare and proceed quite handily to a shortened version of ROMEO AND JULIET. The “bite your thumb” argument between Abraham and Sampson is broken up by no one other than Prince (yes, the singer) himself. They turn TITUS ANDRONICUS into the “Gory Gourmet” cooking show. OTHELLO becomes a rap song; the histories become a football game; and the Scottish play is done with over-the-top accents. But when it comes to doing HAMLET, Ben rebels and leaves the theatre – only to be coaxed back by the audience. It is impossible to encapsulate the damage they do to Shakespeare in ninety minutes. They have tackled one of the most revered theatre traditions – and totally dismantled it. Done with high comedy, vaudevillian sight gags, ridiculous props and costumes, a set made out of shower curtains, and, most important, a true love of Shakespeare, these three have you giggling and laughing out loud before you know it and shouting at the top of your voice, “Maybe she does. Maybe she doesn’t” with the rest of the audience. I almost choked when the Ghost of Hamlet’s Father in the backwards Hamlet came out with “ooB,”

The producers of each new version of the script are given the liberty to update it as cultural references become dated or something else is going on that’s funnier than what is written. So we have The View and iPads and other local and national events referenced alongside the Shakespeare plots. While raucous and high energy, this is not unsuitable for kids and is a GREAT way to make the Bard available to young minds. If they can see the humor in these plays, they will enjoy the “real” versions all the more. So bring the kids – bring Grandma – bring Uncle Harry who hates theatre. They will all love THE ABRIDGED SHAKESPEARE!

A WOW factor of 9.5!!