I’ve discussed plays that I’ve read on this blog before because how a play is written is very interesting to me, but I’ve steered clear of writing about live performances. This is partly because I don’t know a whole lot about what goes on in that discussion, outside of comparing it to the text, and partly because I don’t get to see a whole ton of theater. I’m happy to say I got the opportunity to go to Chicago and see The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) at the WIP Theater. I didn’t get a chance to read this one, (though I was staying at the apartment of the assistant director and one of the guys in the play so I did sneak a peek at one their copies of the script. Yes, I know people that were involved with this, yes I’m way biased. Bear with me, this is an interesting one.) but I’m so glad I went to see it because by the end of the night my throat and cheeks hurt from laughing so much and on top of the hilarity was an interesting play that felt more like brilliantly done improvisation.
Almost every other play I’ve ever been to I’ve read the script if not before seeing it, then immediately after. The context was always set for me and I was able to critically look at the decisions the writer made versus the decisions of those involved with the production. It was genuinely a delight to go into this one completely blind. I could’ve googled it, but I was looking forward to being surprised and letting the actors tell me the story, their own way, with no expectations beforehand. Luckily for me the three gentlemen starring in this production were top rate storytellers. In this play it’s easier to tell than most because the characters they were playing were talking directly to and interacting with the audience in order to play out all of Shakespeare’s works (Play within a play? Try all of Shakespeare’s plays within a play. And when they were doing Hamlet there was a play within a play within a play…intrigued yet?).
I’m no expert on acting and plays, but I do know that if the actors can play it naturally enough that I can’t tell what is scripted and what is improvised, then they did a darn good job. This is especially true in this play. Remember what I said before about sneaking a peak at the script? If I remember correctly the script specifically noted that they should improvise as they feel necessary and update the play to include relevant references. There is enough interaction with the audience via addressing them directly and even getting them intimately involved in the action of the play that this is vital. I’ve encountered playwrights that are specific down to what underwear the actors are wearing for a play in which their underwear would never be visible. While I understand there are all sorts of very effective methods to acting and directing, it seems the writers job does not include complete control over the finished product when it comes to theater. There are simply too many people involved. When storytelling is collaborative everyone involved adds something new unique for the audience to grab onto and relate to. When the playwright is super strict they are denying themselves the opportunity to see a story that they prompted become something no individual person could ever hope to create. It seems the playwrights (Jess Winfield, Adam Long, and Daniel Singer) understood this and made a point of encouraging productions to capitalize on it. This particular production did just that. No one will ever produce a copy of the play that I saw. Every performance is especially unique to the audience that sees it, which is part of why people love theater.
I am so relieved that I did enjoy this production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). It would have been wildly uncomfortable going back to crash on the couch of those involved with it if I hadn’t liked it. I’m lucky in that I have very talented and motivated friends. If you’d like to laugh so hard it hurts I’d recommend checking out The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged at the WIP theater in Chicago. There’s a performance happening as I post this, but don’t worry, they’ll be there next weekend (Aug. 14th and Aug. 15th) too. The link below will give you all the info you need.