"Speak the speech, I pray you," Shakespeare wrote in
, and also wreck the words, mangle the meaning, destroy the delivery, and slash the syntax. OK, so the Bard never wrote
that. And his Hamlet didn't ask a troupe of actors to "speak trippingly" while actually tripping.
But in 1987, a free-for-all called The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) opened at the mother of all Fringe festivals in Edinburgh, Scotland. There, Shakespeare was served intentionally mashed.
The man's work is being lovingly upended at a place where he is frequently produced with invention and always with reverence: the summer Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival at DeSales University in Center Valley, near Bethlehem. It's the third time the festival has staged Complete Works in its 18 years; the last was 2002, and audiences have asked for it recently.
Matt Pfeiffer's production of Complete Works that opened the festival's season Friday is the romp you expect - a precision-performance mess (here, that's a plus). It also seems its own animal, different from the half-dozen or so versions that companies in the region have produced over the last decade.
It references Donovan McNabb, Cole Hamels, Facebook, and a now-closed local spot called the Spring Valley Inn (too many references, there), along with Romeo, Juliet, and the rest. It moves wildly but less formally than other productions - sometimes as if it's just being discovered by the actors as you discover it yourself, which feels right.
It also ditches the premise that puts a world-renowned Bardist among its trio of performers, and the actors' frantic concern about referring to every play in Shakespeare's catalog (though these guys do cover it all).
Pfeiffer and his zany crew are carrying forward a tradition of updating Complete Works while delighting the overseers of box offices across several lands. Selling the real Shakespeare may be a challenge; curling every play he ever wrote into two-plus hours of ribbons is, as Sir Toby says in Twelfth Night, "cakes and ale."
The production contains the show's original goofy core bits, among them Titus Andronicus as a gleefully gruesome cooking show; all the histories performed as a football game; the comedies and romances reworked as a single tale (here, with cool placards); a hip Othello; and a second act devoted to Hamlet that cracks me up whenever I see it. Here, it's done with the same sort of easygoing audience co-optation that marks the rest of the production.
The actors, all endearingly off-balance and finely timed, are two festival regulars, Chris Faith and Christopher Patrick Mullen, and Shawn Fagan. (Mullen has played the real Hamlet - as real as Hamlet gets - at the festival. Fagan played Hamlet as a clueless student in the Arden Theatre Company's Wittenberg last season. Faith has never played Hamlet, but we forgive him.) The utilitarian Elizabethan-theater backdrop is by Bob Phillips, the fun costumes are by Amy Lobmeyer Best, and the show is nicely lit by Thom Weaver. They all kill Shakespeare with love.
Through June 28 at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival at DeSales University, 2755 Station Ave, Center Valley. Tickets: $25-$49.