THE JEWISH COMMUNITY ALLIANCE THEATRE REVIEW
The JCA presented a weekend run of the hilarious comedy “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), on May 16 and 17 at 8505 San Jose Boulevard in Jacksonville, Florida. This play was written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield, founding members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company. The show debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1987 and since that time has been performed frequently throughout the world and has been especially popular in college and university settings.
This fast-paced production covered 37 of Shakespeare’s plays in two acts and ran about two hours with an intermission. Act II is devoted entirely to “Hamlet.”
The JCA production featured three very talented actors, Matt Flagler, Brad Berghof Jr. and Bobby Parker, under the direction of JCA Artistic Director Shelly Higgins Hughes. Mr. Flagler and Mr. Berghof have been friends since their University of Florida days where both were very active with Theatre Strike Force, the largest collegiate improv troupe in the country. In Jacksonville, both are members of the popular Mad Cow Improv Comedy group. Mr. Parker also works with Mad Cow from time to time, and has had experience with several improv workshops, which includes study with Chicago’s famous Second City.
Their well-tuned improv talents came through many times in this production, which was clearly a challenging show, paced at full speed for two hours and filled with many lines to memorize, and many props and costume changes.
The show parodies all of Shakespeare’s works. Berghof opened the show with what appeared to be a serious speech about Shakespeare, explaining that the Bard has over 1,200 characters in his plays. However, when we realized his version of the biography of this great playwright was somehow interspersed with information about Hitler, we knew we were in for an evening of serious leg pulling.
Their version of “Romeo and Juliet” featured Brad as the lovely Juliet, and he apparently did so well with his portrayal of this epitome of femininity that he was given the roles of all the women in the show. The group updated some of the references in “Titus Andronicus,” turning it into a cooking show, with a chef by the name of Deen who was from Savannah.
We especially enjoyed the treatment of the Kings, played as a football game with a crown as the football. Julius Caesar was assassinated more than once. All the guys had very decent Scottish accents and had us laughing at the multiple murders in Macbeth (who knew sword play could be so funny?). In the dramatic scene where Macbeth’s life is deflating, he mentions his patriot friend Brady, who also has a deflating problem.
During Act One, the mythical fourth wall that conventionally separates the audience and the on-stage action was demolished, as one of the characters charged into the audience on several occasions.
At intermission, everyone could catch their breath for fifteen minutes. The audience enjoyed a continuation of the pre-show snacks and beverages, while Parker, Flagler, and Berghof rested, as they prepared for “Hamlet,” the final play. Of note: while many members of the audience wore stylish clothes, Don Gunther, Seneschal of Castlemere and his Countess wife, members of the Society for Creative Anachronism (see castlemere.org), appeared in medieval dress and were off-stage favorites.
Act Two was filled with audience participation. Two playgoers appeared on-stage, one assigned to scream, the other to run back and forth. The full house audience was sectioned into three groups, and given instructions about how to portray Ophelia’s anguished state of mind by shouting on cue. Everyone responded with gusto, and all three actors engaged in fancy sword play and died several times just to please the audience. We did not catch the name of the young lady who was called upon to portray Ophelia, but her scream certainly would have won an Oscar had this been a movie.
Kudos to Shelly Hughes and her marvelous direction of this talented trio of improv masters, and to Technical Director Craig Wickless for his dramatic lighting and sound effects. This particular production had many unseen contributors without whom it could not have been done so well. Thanks to the set crew, prop crew and costume crew for outstanding behind the scenes dedication. They included: Lily Hughes, Greer Pelaia, Mara Schrieber, Cal Barker and his team, Pam Tabill, Melissa Meyenberg, Lior Spring, Beth Mason, Kelly Guarino, Nancy Green and Myron Flagler.
The JCA is open to everyone and has a complete fitness center, swimming pools, and many activities. Shelly Hughes and her staff have a number of classes for actors of every age, and their auditorium stays booked all year with concerts and events. See jcajax.org for additional information.