Madcap Willy
The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged)
Through April 3 at Garden Theatre
160 W. Plant St., Winter Garden

William Shakespeare wrote 37 plays: 14 comedies, 12 histories and 11 tragedies, according to the checklist in the show's program, and watching them all would take about 150 hours. The average audience attention span is considerably less. Question: What to do if you really feel the need to explore each and every title in one evening? Answer: Put three adept performers on stage for about two hours, reduce all the scripts to their barest components and then play everything for laughs, faking it when you have to. Result: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), a manic — and nearly maniacal — distillation of the Bard of Avon's entire stage oeuvre in one ridiculous and totally enjoyable evening of theater.

Local theater practitioner Richard Width, who first performed in the play in town, in 1997, when he was with the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, has taken over the directorial reins for the current Garden Theatre production. Originally penned by the Reduced Shakespeare Company for the 1987 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the three-man romp has been a popular and omnipresent theater staple for two decades; its London run lasted nine years.

Width cast a trio of seriously funny actors: Will Hagaman (he of the lean and hungry look), Jay Hopkins (he of the Droopy Dawg comportment) and Christopher Prueitt (he of the … bald pate and black-velvet pantaloons). They appear as themselves when not donning various wigs and costume pieces in order to portray dozens of Shakespearian denizens — clowns, lovers male and female, soldiers, heroes and villains. In the Complete Works, strict fidelity to the script is the least important element. The three clowns ad-lib, throw in modern references, talk to the audience and generally show as little respect as possible toward the Bard's original intentions.

For instance, in Act 1, the bloody Titus Andronicus is done as a cannibalistic cooking show, Othello is delivered in rap, and Macbeth is reduced to a single duel scene fought by characters who speak in unintelligible Scottish accents. The 12 histories become a gridiron contest with the English crown as the football, and all the comedies are done at the same time, since, according to the "experts" on stage, they all have the same general plot, anyway.

Act 2 is given over entirely to a slapstick version of Hamlet, which is then repeated in successively quicker versions, ending in a hilarious backward rendition. Trust me, you will leave the theater with your head spinning violently out of control, but your funny bone deliriously exercised and exhausted.

— Al Krulick

— Al Krulick

Hitting a hot, high note
Performed Feb. 26-28 at Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre

It's been a few weeks since the performance, but the happy marriage between the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra and Mad Cow Theatre has successfully filled the void left by the demise of the 50-year-old Orlando Opera Company. The new Concert Opera Series collaboration owes much to Mad Cow's artistic director, Alan Bruun, in particular. Although not a longtime opera fan, I was lucky enough to attend Bruun's recent semi-staged concert version of Georges Bizet's Carmen, and I was utterly enthralled.

Bizet's scintillating score was brilliantly performed under the direction of OPO music director Christopher Wilkins, and the entire cast sang superbly, led by world-traveled opera stars Kristin Chávez as Carmen and Richard Troxell as her lover, Don José. Adding to the pleasant surprise was the fact that the sound came across clear and loud even from my last-row vantage point, notwithstanding the Carr's often criticized acoustics. None of the performers wore microphones (although there were several well-placed floor mics onstage), yet the balance between the singers and the orchestra was close to perfect. All that was missing from this production were a few of the fully staged dance and choral numbers that a traditional mounting of the opera would have included.

I already have my tickets for the next Bruun-OPO partnership, a staged concert version of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, April 9 and 11 at Bob Carr, featuring international superstars Marquita Lister and Alvy Powell in the title roles. We're lucky to have such a competent and erudite director as Bruun and such a passionate visionary as OPO executive director David Schillhammer, who launched the concert opera series this season with just the two productions. Not only do these joint ventures provide work for the area's talented performers, musicians and technical personnel, they add immense value to our cultural lives and artistic longings. Judging by the size and interest of the crowd in attendance at Carmen, I think there may be hope for another season.

— Al Krulick

Patrick Scott Barnes'
birthday suite
Art in a Tourist Town
9 p.m. Saturday, March 20
Little Fish, Huge Pond
309 E. First St., Sanford

Those familiar with the city's spoken-word circles are in the know about Patrick Scott Barnes, the godfather of the scene, dating back to the early 1990s and his weekly "Backroom Words" at Go Lounge. Yes, he's been around forever, but that's not the point: He's still here, turning age 41 and ready to throw himself a little party, but not in an overt way. He doesn't think his special occasion is enough to draw a bar-happy crowd, so he's presenting a gift to those who attend.

As per a tradition he started several years ago on his birthdate, Barnes will present a new film to his many friends and followers at Little Fish, Huge Pond in Sanford, the city in which the wordsmith was born and raised. This year's film is called Art in a Tourist Town, and it's an edited collection of videos he's been shooting at art receptions and events over the last year or so. He's quite humble about his self-taught filmmaking skills, but Art in a Tourist Town is as raw and real as Barnes himself. I couldn't view the entire video in advance, but saw a trailer of it that was loaded with local color — both people and art. Barnes does warn that it's not for children, and after the screening, DJ Spanks hits the turntables.

If you don't get to see Barnes' hometown homage, he'll be handling the videos at Le Freak II (10 p.m. March 27 at the Peacock Room), with "booty shakin' beats" by DJ Nigel and Spank.

— Lindy T. Shepherd

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