Theater review: ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [Revised]’

ALL SHAKESPEARE, ALL THE TIME:  Montford Park Players' latest production stars, from left, David Broshar, Jason Williams and Jason Phillips. The trio provide a comedic romp through the Bard's canon.
ALL SHAKESPEARE, ALL THE TIME: Montford Park Players' latest production stars, from left, David Broshar, Jason Williams and Jason Phillips. The trio provide a comedic romp through the Bard's canon. Photo by William Zane Lawrence

The title The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [Revised] basically says it all. It’s a good-natured lampoon of every theatrical Shakespeare piece, compressed into a mere hour and a half. The show starts with the quintessential Romeo and Juliet and ends with the heralded Hamlet. Everything in between is a mashup. The latest production of the Montford Park Players is onstage at Hazel Robinson Amphitheatre through Saturday, Sept. 23.

The trick is there are only three performers, presumably friends, who frolic on and off stage — oftentimes in a tether. There’s no fourth wall with this play, and the audience is invited into the chaos. Performers David Broshar, Jason Williams and Jason Phillips go by their own names in the show. (To avoid any confusion, there’s a marquee, in neon, across the set.)

Williams spurs the momentum and is the undisputed standout. While not the most transformative actor, his attributes are a major advantage here. But not even Williams’ enthusiasm can overcome the sleepy spell this production seems to fall under.

Phillips is seemingly pulled from the audience near the top of the play. From then on, he basically charms the night away. He’s especially winning when taking on any female character, which garners many well-deserved chuckles.

Broshar has a certain charisma, and, with a little more time, the cast will grow more confident together.

This is certainly a difficult show to stage. What makes the production fun is also its challenge. The audience needs to feel as if we’re jacked up on Red Bull, which allows for any misfired jokes to be passed over quickly. Despite the pacing lull and awkwardly misplaced props, the actors in this production hang in there. They truly shine when interacting with the audience, something at least the first few rows relished in. This rapport helps draw us into their playful re-enactment. Director Sarah Felmet can rest assured that most of the trendy script additions are well-received, minus the Game of Thrones references.

The amphitheater’s set is fantastically tarnished with graffiti, making us yearn for the 1980s all over again. Front and center, lettering reads “Puck” and below it “R&J.” But a strategically placed letter “p” looks like an “f.” The wordplay no doubt reflects Felmet’s cheeky humor. Rick Astley’s rickrolling “Never Gonna Give You Up” plays hilariously on repeat throughout the entire intermission. As we wander off to find a treat, we discover Jenni Robinson’s delightful Fox Tasket Picnic Baskets. Such a clever addition makes us feel as though we’re at a real Shakespearean street fair.

It’s no wonder that The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [Revised] is such a popular play in the Asheville area. It’s an automatic crowd-pleasing comedy. Having seen three different versions in the last several years, what’s interesting to note is how distinct the variations are. This is largely due to the selection of cast members, which is key to the show’s success.

WHAT: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [Revised]

WHERE: Hazel Robinson Amphitheatre, 92 Gay St., montfordparkplayers.org

WHEN: Through Saturday, Sept. 23. Friday-Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Free, donations appreciated

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About Kai Elijah Hamilton
Kai Elijah Hamilton was born and raised in Western North Carolina. A poet, screenwriter and playwright, he is also a published film and theater critic. Hamilton is a creative individual with a wide range of talents and interests. He is an Award Winning Actor (Tom in "The Glass Menagerie") and Director ("A Raisin In The Sun"). He previously served as Artistic Director at Hendersonville Little Theatre and has a B.A. in theater and film from Western Carolina University. In 2016, Hamilton's play "The Sleepwalker" won a spot in the first annual Asheville National 10-Minute Play Festival by NYS3. His play "Blackberry Winter" was a finalist in the elite Strawberry One-Act Festival in NYC winning Best Short Film/Video Diary. Hamilton is also the author of the full-length southern-gothic play "Dry Weather Wind" which has been called "Important. Relevant to the issues in today's time, and beautifully written..."

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