Latest theatre production takes literary classics and reworks them through a comedic lens

From telling a wildly inaccurate biography of Shakespeare to mashing all of his comedies into one, nothing is off limits in Liberty’s latest theatre production. In this comedic, helter-skelter interpretation of Shakespeare’s works, the audience roars with laughter and even becomes part of the show themselves.

“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” was originally written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield in 1987. It revolves around three actors attempting to do the impossible: tell all of Shakespeare’s works in less than two hours. 

This involves turning “Titus Andronicus” into a cooking show and combining Shakespeare’s histories, like “Henry V,” into a high-stakes football game.

Liberty’s three-man cast consists of alumni Anthony La Bianca and Ben Perry, and guest artist Ryan Clemens. Due to the nature of the show, they play as themselves when they aren’t representing one of Shakespeare’s characters. 

Photo by: Jessie Jordan

Even then, the way they portray Shakespeare’s original characters lends itself to comedic fun and allowed their personalities to shine through. The actors also tuck inside jokes about the Liberty Way between the original lines.

La Bianca and Perry both agree that this production was one of the most intense they’ve ever worked on. 

Everyone came prepared to the first rehearsal with the entire script memorized. They rehearsed for mere days before they had their first audience. 

“I’ve never done something at this breakneck speed (before),” Perry said.

Each day for practice, the crew fit in as many runs as possible. La Bianca described the rehearsal process as a “baptism by fire,” and Perry added to that saying they were “dunking heads.” 

However, the intensity of the rehearsal process didn’t stop the cast and crew from becoming a tight-knit group. 

“I have 23 costume changes in the last seven minutes of the show. It gets crazy,” La Bianca said. “But the fun thing is that we have such a great team and we’re all having a blast trying to get it all put together. (Somehow), it’s pulling itself together.”

Photo by: Jessie Jordan

Unlike most plays, this one calls the audience to the stage and allows them to interact with the actors. There are several scenes where the lead actors sprint through the aisles and address the crowd. In one instance, an audience member is asked to come on stage to represent Ophelia from “Hamlet.”

“There’s significant audience participation, so if you come, expect to participate,” Scott Hayes, dean of the School of Communication and the Arts, said. 

La Bianca suggested that one line from the script sums it up: “I thought the world of Shakespearean scholarship would be all fast cars and hot babes, but it’s not.”

Over the course of the play, the characters realize they don’t need to add flair to Shakespeare’s works, because they’re already entertaining and well-written. They discover that there is beauty amidst the chaos of the stories.

That being said, the chaos is still, well, chaos.

Among the many other wild takes on Shakespeare’s plays, the show condenses “Hamlet,” written to be a four hour-long tragedy, into a hectic 15-minute performance. But the fun doesn’t stop there. The cast then performs “Hamlet” in under a minute. And then they even stage it backwards.

“To reduce our 15 minutes down to 53 seconds, then to stage it going backwards, it’s been a very funny and wild ride,” Hayes said. “It feels almost like we’re staging some sort of stunt show.” 

“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” will be showing in the Tower Theater until Sept. 3. To see the showtimes or purchase tickets, visit their website

Bear is the feature editor for the Liberty Champion. Follow her on X

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