Because of a few karmic debts I had to work off, I spent much of my youth watching a lot of Shakespeare. I never could figure out what was more ridiculous -- his godawful writing or the swarms of people oohing and aahing over it.
But there is an upside: I get the jokes in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), now playing at Apple Hill Playhouse.
Written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, the show purports to be a performance of all 37 Shakespeare plays in less than two hours. That's slightly deceptive: Act I is a lampoon of 36 plays, and the second act sends up Hamlet.
The first act features a few stand-alone skits satirizing Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, Titus Andronicus and one or two other tragedies. Then the 16 comedies are dispatched in one short scene, and the histories are all mashed together and presented as a football game (with the King of England's crown as the football).
It's all relatively entertaining, and while it never reaches the level of genuine wit, that's not the goal. The writers are aiming more for a frat-boy/grad-student sensibility -- which ultimately befits Shakespeare, who has few equals when it came to writing low comedy.
Nate Newell's direction provides the Apple Hill production with the strong bones and structure it needs. He's also done a fine job keeping the show moving along. Nathan Hough, Rob Jessup and Justin Mohr are the extremely enthusiastic performers, willing to go as far into the world of comedic excess as possible with no hesitation. By the evening's end, you're completely on their side.
All that's left is the more precise, miniature work. Comedy, especially in something as haphazard as this script, is really about crisp, clean timing and intent -- getting the small moments absolutely pristine. This production is a little shaggy and goes in too many directions at once. But comedy can be perfected only in front of a live audience, and I hope these fine performers keep working hard during the rest of the run.
THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED) continues through Sat., Oct. 1. Apple Hill Playhouse, 275 Manor Road, Delmont. 724-468-5050 or www.applehillplayhouse.org