MADISON, NJ – Since this rambunctious production takes place outdoors, we’re not too concerned with subtleties or even Shakespearean language.
This farce, “William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged),” written by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor is directed with verve and no-holds-barred by Brian B. Crowe. Martin apparently has a talent for this sort of riff with ‘The Complete Word of God (abridged)” and “The Complete History of America (abridged).”
Just three actors take on multiple characters, instant costume changes, flights up and down the amphitheatre’s stone steps and appearances all over the extended stage. Jonathan Finnegan more or less introduces the play, finding a seemingly rare collection of Shakespeare’s lines and characters.
His Juliet is priceless, his Hamlet is sort of soulful and his total disguise as Falstaff is hilarious. Don’t miss his Richard the Third. He also appears as Shakespeare himself.
Connor Carew and Ryan Woods step in to impersonate a raft of characters. Woods is sulking and sultry as Ariel, the Little Mermaid and more. Carew frequently emerges as Puck from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ There’s a lot of comparing Shakespeare to Disney, with some clever allusions to various Disney productions that seem to have similar themes to Shakespeare’s plays. All three actors periodically appear as the witches from ‘Macbeth.’
Whether you’re familiar with most of Shakespeare’s plays, or not, it really doesn’t matter as the action is fast and furious. There are entertaining dance pauses when planes fly overhead and a bit of audience participation as well.
The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s summer outdoor play is an annual treat, set on the campus of the College of Saint Elizabeth with its replica of a Greek amphitheatre. It makes for a perfect evening under the stars, with early arrivals bringing picnic suppers to spread out on the lawns and under the trees. Young people under the age of 18 are admitted free. For youngsters, it’s a great way to be exposed to William Shakespeare or other notable playwrights without being forced to sit still the whole time. In a packed production on Saturday night, the audience was attentive and responsive during the entire show.
In earlier years, plays were limited to 90 minutes without an intermission. That has been extended to a two hour production, with a 15 minute intermission. That’s fine for some plays, but for others, some of the humor wears thin after awhile. There’s only so much you can milk from the many works of the Bard. A tighter production would serve this play just as well.
A zany set by Brian Ruggaber, flamboyant costumes by Paul Canada and lighting by Jason Flamos add to the colorful frivolity. Kari B. Berntson’s sound design creates a realistic sense of thunder that adds a certain drama to the entire evening.
“William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged)” continues on the campus of Saint Elizabeth through August 4. For tickets, call 973-408-5600 or visit shakespearenj.org.