Which William Shakespeare play stands out from the rest? The Bard wrote close to 40 plays during his lifetime, in addition to many sonnets and poems, so there is no shortage of work from which to choose. For many, the star-crossed tale of young love from "Romeo and Juliet" comes to mind, while others might pick "Macbeth," a political tragedy that highlights the danger of unchecked ambition. Then again, maybe thinking about Shakespeare evokes feelings of boredom and dread from being assigned "Julius Caesar" in high school English class.
The University of Michigan-Flint is mounting a theatre production that will surely please all audience members, whether they are lifelong Shakespeare fans or have avoided the English playwright since high school graduation. "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)" plays at the UM-Flint Theatre Feb. 2-4 and Feb. 9-11. As the title suggests, "The Complete Works" introduces audiences to each of Shakespeare's 37 plays during its 90-minute runtime.
"The play is an exercise in pure fun," said William Irwin, associate professor of theatre and director of the production. "It is a fast-paced circus, full of physical comedy, quick costume changes, clever wordplay, ridiculous props, audience interactions, and even a little swordplay. Shakespeare and all his works are celebrated while at the same time looked at through a very irreverent lens."
To list a few of the play's cheeky bona fides:
- "Othello" is condensed into a hilarious rap (reminiscent of "Hamilton").
- Human head pie is the main dish served in a "Titus Andronicus"-inspired cooking show.
- Shakespeare's history plays are transformed into a football game where the ball is the crown.
- "Macbeth" is a cartoonish sketch with Scottish accents and over-the-top swordplay.
Contrasting with the play's ambitious scope is its limited cast, consisting of only three UM-Flint students. According to Irwin, the student actors in this production are like athletes, performing at top speed for 90 minutes to bring this production to life.
"They play a myriad of roles, complete numerous costume changes, have to track various props, perform Shakespearean verse one moment, execute some zany physical comedy the next, and they have to do it all with breakneck speed and accuracy," Irwin said.
Cast member Jillian Tate said that, while preparing for the production has been challenging for her personally, it is gratifying to see the cast and crew come together to make this show a reality.
"You bring a new piece of yourself away with every show you do, making you a more understanding, well-rounded, and capable individual. Everyone is a moving part. To be able to rely on Layna Bollwitt as a stage manager when we need something for the show, or Bill Irwin to try something a different way we haven't thought of is so important. Even trusting Logan and Ava as my castmates to help each other when we may be struggling is such a rewarding experience."
While much of "The Complete Works" is a flippant adaptation of the Shakespeare canon, a few aspects of the production give a more historical nod to the renowned playwright. The scenic design is an homage to The Globe Theatre, an Elizabethan playhouse first built in 1599 and where Shakespeare's plays were famously performed. The Globe's layout allowed audience members to surround the stage on three sides, a format that will be replicated in "The Complete Works."
"Since a large part of this play's success lies in the actors' ability to engage with the audience, they will actually be seated on stage for this production. This will bring audience members closer to the action and allow them to feel like they are the fourth actor in the show – which in many ways, they are," Irwin said.
Tickets for "The Complete Works" are available now through the Flint Institute of Music website and will also be available at the door. More information about the fine and performing arts at UM-Flint can be found on the department's webpage.
Logan McGrady is the marketing & digital communication manager for the Office of Marketing and Communication.