‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)’

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From October 1 to 31, New York’s Phoenix Theatre Ensemble will open its third season with a remounting of “The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield. The production will be staged at The New York Improv, 318 W 53rd St., Manhattan, where the atmosphere will be ideal for this frothy, funny frolic.

Last season’s mounting at Theatre Three (311 W. 43rd Street, 3rd floor, April 15 to May 6, 2006) proved a delight, but was overshadowed by Phoenix’s coinciding production of “Wolfpit” by Glyn Maxwell. The re-mounting is intended to share a delicious production with a wider audience in a venue which is unabashedly for comedy.

Confidence in Mayhem: Matt Neely, Scott Phillips and Brian Costello
CONFIDENCE IN MAYHEM Matt Neely, Scott Phillips and Brian Costello. Photo by Gerry Goodstein

The piece is an irreverent, fast-paced romp through all 37 plays and 154 sonnets in just 96 minutes. When first produced by The Reduced Shakespeare Company at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1987, it was initially regarded as something of a Shakespeare parody on the level of Animal House. It became a major and recurrent hit at Edinburgh and settled in for a ten-year run in London’s West End at the Criterion Theatre, where it became one of the main theatrical attractions in Piccadilly Circus. It has even entered the repertories of leading European drama theatres, including national and state theatres which customarily only present the classics, ancient and modern.

The vehicle is usually presented as a tour de force for three comedians. Improvisation plays a heavy role and it is normal for the actors to deviate from the script and break into spontaneous conversations about the material with each other and the audience. Usually, there are references to pop culture, local people and the neighborhood; each performance is vastly different, even with the same cast.

The actors are Scott D. Phillips, Brian Costello and Matt Neely. Director is Michael Surabian. Set design is by Robert Klingelhoefer. Costume design is by Nicole Frachiseur.

The actors of the Phoenix, known primarily as classicists, were hungry for a comedy and took up the piece as something that would be unexpected, given their backgrounds. Co-founder Craig Smith explains, “It takes a lot of confidence to do this kind of comedy. With Brian, Scotty and Matt we have highly experienced classical actors who are at ease with this type of mayhem.” Why the revival? “We were doing it with ‘Wolfpit’ by Glyn Maxwell, as a lighter counterpart to a rather heavy play. And after the success last spring, one night over drinks we thought how much fun it would be to do CW over drinks. So here we are now at the Improv.”

Last season, Nytheatre.com (Josephine Cashman) praised the cast, writing: “Their love of the play is evident, their enthusiasm is infectious, and they hurl themselves into the comic fray with fearlessness and abandon,” regretting only that the production was constrained by being staged on the set of “Wolfpit.” At the New York Improv, there will be more space, and drinks.

This production is appropriate for kids 12 and up, and soft drinks will be available for the beverage minimum.

To buy tickets call 212-352-3101 or go to the homepage www.phoenixtheatreensemble.org for more deatils.

Jonathan Slaff is a New York publicist in the specialty of international cultural events. Jonathan and his writers keep us ahead of the curve in the world of the arts and culture.