Love My Willy Players Present
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
Written By Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield
Directed by Paul Eddy
May the Bard Be With You (or How to be Silly with Willy)
by Roxanne Davies
If a wacky, gag-a-minute rendition of the plays of England's most esteemed playwright seems like the perfect antidote to Vancouver's dark and chilly nights, then you are in for a real treat with the latest I Love My Willy Players production at North Vancouver's Presentation House theatre.
But if you're in a bad mood, (you just lost your job, your car broke down and yourdog died) you may find the manic routines a little overwhelming to your sensibilites.
So while some erudite Shakespearean scholars may groan with dismay at the irreverant slapstick antics, receptive audiences are rolling in the aisles with laughter as these musty 400 -year old plays take on a new and twisted life. Coriolanus as a cooking show? You simply take one rapist, drain his blood and serve him up to his mother, of course.
Actors Mike Busswood, Mark Gash and Ben Odberg, the three stooges in this lampoon of Shakespeare's works, display a manic exhuberance that is just barely contained by director, Paul Eddy. The cheerful director puts his talented charges through a frantic and physically gruelling pace but these actors are certainly up for the challenge. Literally.
Odberg as Juliette plays the balcony scene perched daintily up on Busswood's shoulders. The evening begins with a lengthy spoof of the time-honoured romantic tragedy and ends with Hamlet, a play that deals with the motif of evil and disease concealed in a healthy exterior. "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark" , Shakespeare tells us.
What we get from the Willy Players is Hamlet, the great dane, woof, woof!
With frantic costume changes, flying props, and audience participation, the evening performance charges full steam ahead for the 97 minutes it takes to perform the bard's 37 plays, with a fifteen minute intermission in order to get one's breath. The houselights go up often to engage the audience in improvisational bits that may or may not go down well depending on the talents and cooperation of the hapless audience members.
Odberg appears to play most of the female characters, as women with wigs who vomit all over people before they die. He gallops through the aisles with cheerful abandon. He is terrific as he leads the group in a rap rendition of Othello.
Mark Gash, the more thoughtful of the thespians, often feels a need to interpret the goings on for the audience. Buswood, whose sonorous tones and generous girth anchors the play with an Elizabethen countenance reminiscent of Falstaff.
One can't help but feel admiration for Sylvia Eddy, an actress in her own right who is in charge of costumes and has the challenge of dressing the trio, with the help of yards of Velcro, no doubt.
Although there are only three actors, it's obvious that the behind the scenes efforts of the production crew contribute to the total success of this wild and wacky play.
Melissa Kramer must have a chore finding the right tacky costumes, and stage manager Peter Borgmann, in charge of set design, kept the set simple to have room for the raucous aerobics of the actors.
The troupe doesn't have tremendous respect for the audience but then again what can you expect from a production of Troilus and Cressida staged with a green plastic Godzilla and toy farmhouse.
The historical drama, King Henry V1, inspires the trio to present it as a football game. "Why can't Shakespeare be more like sports? Let's kick some royal ass!"
The tragedies are twice as funny as the comedies. Since it's quite obvious that once Shakespeare found a formula that worked, and used it over and over again, the 16 comedies are distilled into one rollicking farce, complete with clown noses.
So if green plastic godzillas, funny handshakes and cross-dressing comedy is your cup of tea you'll have a lot of fun in the cozy ambience of the heritage-style Presentation House theatre.
And attention to all English teachers. If your students complain about learning the intricacies of plot and characterization of the bard's plays, you might want to encourage them to see this absurd production. Tickling their funny bones may be one way to get their brains in gear to absorb the true genius of the Elizabethan dramatist.
Copyright 1998 Roxanne Davies