Rapid fire Shakespeare leads to goofy thrills

People have been reading and performing Shakespeare for centuries. No writer has been studied more in schools or adapted into more films. Every English major at Bradley (including myself) has to take one Shakespeare course to graduate, sometimes leading to either love or hatred of the writer.

But I never really considered how to make fun of the Bard until I saw “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” at the Hartmann Center.

Ross Cochran, Josiah Williams and Kevin Logsdon play host to the very self-aware play. The show jams nearly all 36 plays into one 90-minute production (with all of the second act reserved for “Hamlet”), and making them funny in the process.

The three cast members play all the roles, whether by a quick run-through of “Romeo and Juliet” or turning “Titus Andronicus” into a bloody cooking show. Each one throws themselves into the role they’re playing, no matter how silly or weird they have to get. They have great chemistry together and a good sense of comic timing, which is necessary for this fast-moving show.

Many plays are peppered with pop culture references from the 21st century, including Rebecca Black’s “Friday” and Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” None of these references are obvious, so they don’t get in the way of the main jokes about Shakespeare, but they can still seem out of place and slightly forced.

The most satirical element comes from the comedies, which are rolled together into one bizarre story. As the show points out, most of the comedies have very similar plots and use the same tropes, such as cross-dressing, over and over again.

The history plays are also put together into a football game, a joke that ends before it gets repetitive or unfunny. The quick pace of the show means very little is dwelt upon; the show goes from joke to joke easily, making it fun for the most part. However, while these parts are funny, the histories and comedies probably don’t get the attention they deserve.

Act II, which focuses entirely on “Hamlet,” is the definite highlight, as Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy is given the importance it requires in the show. The second act features the most audience interaction of the show, with the three cast members leading the crowd in various activities.

Without a doubt, a decent amount of knowledge about Shakespeare’s plays is required before seeing the show. When all 16 comedies are rolled into one quick scene, the rapid-fire way the jokes are told will be lost by anyone not familiar with the material. But for fans of Shakespeare, the play is a must-see. This is undoubtedly a show for English and theatre majors.

“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” continues tonight and tomorrow at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.