Play Preview: ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised]’

by Shelby Ahlborg

As the school year draws to a close, the Cedarville theatre program is preparing for its final show of the season. Following a more serious play and light-hearted musical, the final performance of the year will be a mix between a spoof, which is a type of play that makes fun of the work or works it is based on, and a farce, which is based on improbable circumstances. While most people think of Shakespeare’s work as much more serious and hard to understand than more modern plays, ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised]’ is much closer to its roots than one would think.

“I think most contemporary audiences, if they haven’t been to a lot of Shakespeare plays or haven’t read a lot about Shakespeare, assume that it’s very hard to understand, and it’s always serious and very bombastic,” said Dr. Diane Merchant, director. “The comedies aren’t that at all. The tragedies do have very serious themes, but even in the tragedies, there are points where Shakespeare wove in comedies as comic relief for an audience. And I feel like most people don’t realize that now.”

Being more of the crazy action, unrealistic play than some of the other productions put on in the past, both the acting and directing has to be approached differently. A good part of the play employs slapstick humor, something that can be traced back to the Italian commedia dell’arte, an art form that was actually employed in a number of Shakespeare’s plays when they were first produced in England. The comedies, especially, featured a lot of boisterous humor, things like mistaken identity, fast-paced, unrealistic plots and quick costume changes. A number of these comedy elements will be utilized in ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised]’, giving the play a much different feel than many other types of stage productions.

Stage manager Alana Bradley described the play as a small troupe of actors who are doing a quick run-through of all of Shakespeare’s plays, with no real plot line as they simply jump from play to play. It makes fun of the works, yet still gives a general feel for them in language and references. There are a number of current cultural references, as the play is edited occasionally to keep up with the changing times, and should be fun for everyone. The show was originally produced by The Reduced Shakespeare Company, and it was developed from sketch comedy into a full-length script over a period of twenty years, with numerous revisions.

One of the things about this play that is so unusual is the fact that there are very few actors. Most plays have a larger cast, but ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised]’ calls for a much smaller cast to wear many hats as they switch plays and characters. With it being such a small cast, the dynamics are different than they would normally be, both between the actors themselves and the director and the cast, but Dr. Merchant found the tight knit interactions highly beneficial to the creation of the play.

“It was really easy because each one of them are so creative,” she said. “It seems like a really collaborative bond. They thought of things to try, and this script is written encouraging you to update it all the time. Take out outdated political humor, things that have been going on in the culture before that people don’t know about now. So it’s meant for a lot of improvisation and rewriting and thinking of current things in the culture to make fun of. These actors, it’s been real interesting seeing how they’ve bonded and feed off of each other, real creatively. It’s worked great.”

Alana Bradley agreed with Dr. Merchant on the actors’ interactions.

“They’re being themselves,” she said. “The interactions that they do offstage come directly into what they do on stage, which is hilarious and great. And they work super well together. I couldn’t have asked for better offstage and onstage relationships.”

With the type of play that ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised]’ is, it has been designed to make people laugh and have a generally good time. And that is what Dr. Merchant really drove for as the play was designed.

“I wanted the show to be full of color and fun, and for the audience to have the best time in the most unexpected ways,” she said. “I want them to feel like they’ve had a good time, and they’ve been able to forget their troubles, forget about the troubling news, to be able ere to have fun with the people around them. And there are some parts where there’s some surprising audience participation, and we want people to really have a fun time with that.”

Opening night for ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised]’ is 8:00 p.m. Thursday, March 30, and will run through April 9. Tickets can be purchased at the Information Center in Stevens Student Center or online at

Shelby Ahlborg is a sophomore theatre major and A&E writer for Cedars. She enjoys drawing, listening to movie scores and writing fiction stories.

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