Encore Michigan

UDMercy Theatre Company’s “Complete Works… (etc.)” was a lot of fun

Review April 22, 2024 Kent Straith

One of the more anodyne things that can definitely be said about The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [revised] [again] is that when you’re reviewing it, you would do well to copy and paste the title from somewhere else. Written by playwrights Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield, and existing in some capacity for going on forty years, this is a show that nobody really seems to agree on the title of, and absolutely not on the content of, as there are rarely two performances exactly alike. The fourth wall is non-existent here, and the audience is constantly being asked to participate in their seats, and sometimes on stage, and the script is constantly being updated with new cultural references, and there’s a healthy degree of improv woven throughout every show.

This is a show I can definitely say positive things about—the staging, direction, and individual performances—but on the whole, it leaves me pretty cold. One of my unassailable truths when it comes to performing arts is this: Not everything is for everyone. It’s okay to not like some things, because they may not like you very much, or at least, were designed for an audience of a different sensibility. On a personal note, I recognize the importance of parody to history and the cultural landscape, but my general attitude toward parody is that I would rather see YOUR idea and YOUR story than your mockery of someone else’s. Each and every time I encounter anything related to the series of revues known as ‘Forbidden Broadway’ (or its sibling ‘Spamilton’), I end up feeling a little worse about something I like. So, in general, parody isn’t my bag, and I would just rather not. With that disclaimer in mind, “The Complete Works…” is a parody, and you might it very funny. I don’t (or at least not as funny as it thinks it is), but I also will never, ever watch a pro-wrestling event, and that seems to be incredibly popular.

Built lightly on the frame of a story of three actors setting out to perform the complete Folio in the time allotted to them (why is never made entirely clear), they start out with a twelve minute rendition of Romeo & Juliet, decide that they have to move MUST faster, and then tackle (in rapid succession) Titus Andronicus as a cooking show, Othello by giving a segment from one speech from it, followed by a summary of ALL the Comedies, and then Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Antony & Cleopatra, Two Noble Kinsmen, and Troilus & Cressida before breaking for intermission. Act II is almost entirely a lengthy cover of Hamlet.

The show, performed at the black box inside the Boll YMCA in downtown Detroit, is a production of the University Of Detroit Mercy Theatre Company. All the participants are students, and everyone has a bright future in whatever it is they choose to do in the arts. The actors themselves (Jordan Collyer, Mason Modezelewski, and Gavin Rapuzzi) are all very good at this. Watching them perform before and among a small crowd in an endless carousel of accents and costumes is a lot of fun (Collyer especially is pure, unrestrained chaos). All of them seem to have the chops to perform serious comedic or dramatic roles, and the material here is elevated by some great casting and their total commitment to the premise. In general, I just wish I knew why this piece is a thing at all. I don’t know more about Shakespeare than I did before I sat down…..wait, no…actually, I do. Before I attended this show, I didn’t know that anything called Two Noble Kinsmen existed.

I wasn’t asked to look at the Bard in a new way. I just saw some very talented young people run around breathlessly for 90 minutes making fun of him. William Shakespeare hardly needs my protection, but mockery has its place, but we’re best served when it makes a point, and while I don’t know what the point of this show is, if you find this kind of thing funny, more power to you, and you’ll likely enjoy it, because it was definitely well executed. Just…ideally…for somebody else.

(The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [revised] [again]  is closed as of April 21, but was a production of University Of Detroit Mercy Theatre Company. For questions about Detroit Mercy Theatre or information about their past and upcoming seasons, visit www.www.udmercy.edu/life/theatre, or call the ticket office at 313-993-3270.)