The Compleat Wrks of Wilm Shkspr, performed by junior Keegan Siebken, senior Shane Donegan and sophomore Jack Dryden, was a lively and well executed production.
For those who do not know, The Compleat Wrks of Wilm Shkspr is a comical play that whips all of Shakespeare’s plays into about two hours of acting and improvisation. The play was written in the late 1980s and has become well-known since then.
This play is unique because every time it is performed, it changes. There are staples of the play such as the rap of Othello, Hamlet speed acted and Shakespeare’s histories smashed together into a football game of passing the crown.
However, the script leaves plenty of space for the actors to add in pop culture references. The point is to make the play relevant whenever it is performed. During “Hamlet,” Donegan as Hamlet spoke to the skull of Lady Gaga, which is traditionally Hamlet’s friend Yorick. Specifics of the costumes are also left up to the cast and director. The goal of the costumes is to be humorous, but how that is achieved is not specifically laid out. Siebken, Donegan and Dryden wore horrible fake wigs with pillow breasts stuffed under their shirts.
One of the most impressive parts of the performance was that it was almost impossible to discern what was planned from what was improvised. It takes skill to make improvised actions and recovery lines seem as if they were meant to be. Other parts of the play required the opposite to occur; planned lines and actions had to seem unplanned. The most obvious of these was at the beginning when Dryden was reading about Shakespeare’s life from note cards and mixed Shakespeare’s life with the rise of the Third Reich. Since a majority of the play is scripted, but would seem like the actors’ choices in the moment to those who do not know the play, I would say they pulled it off well.
It was surprising to me how physical the play was. All three actors had to exert themselves a lot, but Siebken was the most active. He jumped, climbed and scampered up the side of the performance wagon.
The Compleat Wrks of Wilm Shkspr is also known for its lack of the fourth wall. Dryden, Donegan and Siebken really mastered the balance of maintaining their ever-changing characters and interacting with the audience. The fourth wall is the invisible wall that usually separates the actors from the audience, meaning the actors do not acknowledge or interact with the audience while in character.
My two favorite parts of the play were Titus Andronicus as a cooking show and the play within a play of Hamlet portrayed by sock puppets. Each day they performed the play within a play, a different random female audience member was named as the “huge slut” puppet that represented Hamlet’s mother.
There were a few too many overt sexual references for my taste, but then again the play was based on Shakespeare’s plays which are known for their sexual innuendo.
All in all, the students involved in The Compleat Wrks of Wilm Shkspr should be very proud of themselves. They made a lot of material and a long show seem like it just zoomed by. There was constant action with no points of low energy. The actors were not self-conscious at all as they did almost every awkward and embarrassing action imaginable.