The comedic trio, made up of narrator and host Mick Orfe, resident Shakespearean scholar and secret twi-hard Michael Faulkner and the young Google-and-Wikipedia-educated Matt Rippy, promised to present the complete works of William Shakespeare, all 37 Shakespearean plays in 97 minutes. Pointing to all the exits in event of an emergency, Orfe pulled a gas mask out of his pocket, thus preparing the audience for a fun, laugh-filled flight into the life of Shakespeare’s plays.
To thread together the Shakespearean experience, the trio gave a haphazard performance as three stooges who barely knew what they were doing. Starting this endeavor to conquer the Bard’s plays, Matt Rippy gave an informative index-card presentation on Shakespeare’s history; however, when Shakespeare begins to invaded Poland in 1939 and ends up committing suicide, hilarity ensues.
In a true commedia de arte style, the three stooges used a variety of props as well as slapstick humor. In their version of Romeo and Juliet, while Faulkner, Rippy and Orfe shared the roles of Benvolio, Romeo, Juliet, Tybalt, Prince Escalus, the nurse and the apothecary, wigs, skirts, swords, crowns and other quick costume changes were used to illustrate the different characters. While male actors frequently played multiple characters as well as all the female leads in the Elizabethan era, the fact that Rippy as Juliet and Orfe as Romeo refuse to share a kiss becomes a great source of humor. Furthermore, as Rippy and Orfe illustrate the famous “balcony scene” where Romeo visits Juliet at night, Faulkner finds himself as the surrogate balcony as Rippy places his skirt over Faulkner’s hunched figure.
Yet Romeo and Juliet is not the only disastrously hilarious performance of Shakespeare. When Rippy mistakes the word “moor” to mean the dock where one ties ships, the three person RSC cast transition to a rap about Othello.
In an attempt to abridge much of Shakespeare’s material, the trio reduces Shakespeare’s 16 comedies from A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream to The Tempest to one giant blurry mess, a segment that the RSC calls “Four Weddings and a Transvestite.” Meanwhile, the RSC combines the Bard’s historical plays from Henry IV to King Lear in a football game representing the passing of the crown.
Covering 36 plays in Act One, a brief intermission followed; by then, Rippy didn’t want to finish the last play Hamlet, fleeing from the stage as Faulkner chases him. “I will not bring vomitless Shakespeare to people of Ithaca,” Rippy tells The State Theatre audience as people laugh. A running gag for Rippy’s female cross-dressing characters is that they continue to barf on the audience.
The three-man crew then becomes a one-man entertainment while Orfe does standup. Singing Dylan’s piece “Blowing in the Wind” on the guitar while attempting to cover the Bard’s 157 sonnets, Orfe passes a sheet throughout the audience hoping for Faulkner and Rippy to return.
Luckily, Faulkner drags Rippy back onstage, convincing the other that they will visit Ithaca’s Buttermilk Falls; however, Faulkner also confides to the audience that Rippy is unaware of the fact that there is no buttermilk in Buttermilk Falls.
The RSC also found other ways to personalize their performance in Ithaca, even making a Bombers reference, the school mascot of Ithaca College. While the RSC’s presentation was scripted, the trio continued to find ways to make “The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged” an interactive experience.
To view the complete tour dates of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, click here.