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Actors’ Shakespeare Project brings the Bard’s work to life in comedic romp

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Actors’ Shakespeare Project brings the Bard’s work to life in comedic romp
Rachel Belleman and Marc Pierre. PHOTO: NILE SCOTT STUDIOS

Actors’ Shakespeare Project rings 2020 in with a laugh. Running through Jan. 12 at the Charlestown Working Theater, “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” is a humorous romp through the Bard’s canon, with the cast taking on some of his most famous characters with wit and skill.

Ivy Ryan, Marc Pierre and Rachel Belleman. PHOTO: NILE SCOTT STUDIOS

Ivy Ryan, Marc Pierre and Rachel Belleman. PHOTO: NILE SCOTT STUDIOS

Three actors, Rachel Belleman, Marc Pierre and Ivy Ryan, comprise the whole cast, lending a physical comedy component to the show as the actors madly toss off wigs and grab swords to change character on and off stage. Though the show is all in good fun, and at times veers wonderfully toward silly, the actors exhibit incredible skill in jumping from one dialect to another and spitting out rapid-fire lines for the whole two-hour production. At one moment, Pierre pulls out a guitar to accompany a song; later he beatboxes on a harmonica. Don’t be fooled by the rubber chicken — a huge amount of talent went into the making of this show.

Rachel Belleman and Ivy Ryan. PHOTO: NILE SCOTT STUDIOS

Rachel Belleman and Ivy Ryan. PHOTO: NILE SCOTT STUDIOS

In this spin, the Montagues and the Capulets are the Red Sox and the Yankees, Romeo is a moody teen (not that different from the original, actually) and Titus Andronicus runs a cooking show about frying up your enemy’s body parts. A few select plays, like “Romeo and Juliet” and “Hamlet,” are given special attention, while all of the comedies, which follow a similar structure, are lumped together. The only disappointment in this lineup is Lady Macbeth’s absence from the piece.

It’s not just the texts that are going through the comedic wringer in “The Complete Works,” it’s the way Shakespeare has been performed and perceived as well. In the beginning of the show, Ryan plays an uppity Shakespeare scholar (who often gets her facts wrong), illustrating the intellectual wall often built around his work. In an interview with the Banner, Pierre said he feels that one of the most important functions of the show is making Shakespeare accessible to all audiences. After all, he did write for the masses.

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Theatrical practices are skewered in the show as well. In one particular barb, Ryan turns to Pierre (the only black actor in the show) and says, “Othello must be your dream role!” an almost painful joke about the siloed opportunities for people of color in Shakespeare.

“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” is a wonderful way to break in your 2020 theater roster, particularly with guests who are intimidated by or unused to theater as an art form. One warning: It’s chock full of audience participation. Otherwise, it’s fun, accessible and rife with talent. Pierre was hesitant to speak on Shakespeare’s behalf, but I think the playwright is laughing in his 17th-century grave.

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