Incessantly silly and absolutely entertaining, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised] cuts loose with energetic glee at the Loft Theatre courtesy of the Human Race Theatre Company.
Written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, Complete Works is an irreverent, witty tribute to the Bard’s 38 plays (give or take) solely relying on the improvisational and cohesive compatibility of only three actors. The script requires the cast to poke fun at the Bard and themselves with abandon, paying reverence when it’s due but also acknowledging the sheer artistic freedom derived from the zany pleasures of satire. As is humorously stated at one point, “We don’t have to do it justice – just do it!” Throughout the production, some jokes or bits land sharply while others feel strained, but that’s standard practice whether you’re at a comedy club or watching Saturday Night Live. It’s always dangerous when certain plays abide by an anything goes philosophy but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time watching it come to life. And a good time is on the menu as Bruce Cromer, Jordan Laroya, and Shaun Patrick Tubbs joyfully drive this wild ride through some of the greatest passages ever written.
Fittingly, the majority of the action covers Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and Hamlet, three iconic pieces ripe for playful rediscovery under Aaron Vega’s breezy, interactive (introverts beware!), inspired, and pop culture-tinged direction. Whether ensuring certain lines are filled with rousing gospel fervor or a thick Scottish brogue or humorously paying homage to Hamilton, Black Panther or the rock god aura of Prince, Vega creates a rollicking playground of fun, using every bit of the Loft space from aisles to props. In fact, scenic designer Eric Barker, properties master Heather Powell, and sound designer Jay Brunner gives Vega all the comical tools he needs, especially familiar props from past Human Race productions such as the enormous teddy bear from The House presented earlier this season.
Local audiences have grown accustomed to seeing Cromer, one of the most acclaimed and widely respected Shakespearean actors in our region, taking the stage in a surefire leading capacity, but he navigates well in this team effort. Aware that everyone is on equal footing, he smoothly blends with Laroya and Tubbs, helping establish a good-natured rapport suggesting the trio have been pals for years. In fact, Tubbs, a Wright State University alumnus previously seen in the Human Race’s outstanding production of Jitney, is one of Cromer’s former students which aids in their chemistry. Specifically, Cromer is featured to great effect when he breaks from the Hamlet storyline to venture on a nostalgic detour into the backstory behind characters from Downton Abbey, resulting in a hilarious nervous breakdown. The extremely personable Tubbs, conveying stand-up comedian ease even during the show’s curtain speech, keeps the comedy flowing from his valiant Romeo to his kooky and aloof Julius Caesar. Laroya, a Human Race newcomer taking on the persona of being dashing and daft, is an energetic delight who effortlessly brings the show’s absurd frenzy to a calming state of beautiful pensiveness during his dynamic rendering of a Hamlet monologue.
You don’t have to love or understand Shakespeare to enjoy this romp. Leave your troubles outside and let the laughs take over.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised] continues through June 17 at the Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main St., Dayton. 8 pm Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings; 7 pm Tuesday and Wednesdays evenings; and 2 pm Sunday matinees. There will be a post-show talkback after the June 10 performance. Tickets are $35-$50 for adults; $32-$46 for seniors; and $17.50-$25 for students. Prices vary depending on performance date and seating location. There are a limited number of $12 and $25 side area seats available for each performance. For tickets or more information, call (937) 228-3630 or visit humanracetheatre.org or ticketcenterstage.com.