Shakespeare, Abridged and Farced

“The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Abridged” was conceived in 1987 for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield.
The cast of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged,” from left, Rafe Terrizzi, Ian Harkins, and Shannon Harris, horsed around by Lake Agawam. Nathaniel Johnston

As much as purists love a meaty, topical play, everyone can appreciate a good farce now and then, particularly in the summer. Purpled Pheasant Productions, a new professional theater group based at the Southampton Cultural Center, has chosen to introduce itself through the latter.

“The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Abridged” was conceived in 1987 for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield. The company has updated the script’s contemporary references, from MTV to Google and Instagram, with a couple of nods to a certain presidential candidate.

As improvised and interpreted as the play seems, there are defined roles, and the cast plays the roles originated by the three authors. As accessible as the format is, some people who have never quite understood Shakespeare’s language and plots might still feel as though something like this would be over their heads.

The authors addressed this by spending the most time on the most famous and oft-quoted plays and zipping through the early and less familiar works. Then, as an insurance policy, they keep the ribald humor flowing, in truncations of plays such as “Two Gentleman of Verona” and “Romeo and Juliet.”

“But love‚“ begins one actor in a scene from “Romeo and Juliet.” “Butt love? Dude, did you just say butt love?” responds another. Clearly not high art, but if you feel like accessing your inner 12-year old, it is giggle-inducing. Additionally it signals to the audience that something funny is going on in Shakespeare’s text, which 16th-century audiences appreciated in their time as well.

While the jokes fly across the stage, the actors also flit and race around, dueling with kids’ toys and riding pool noodles as horses. There is much cross-dressing as well, using silly wigs and other costuming to humorous effect. 

“Titus Andronicus” is reimagined as a cooking show, and “Othello” is done as a rap. “Macbeth” features silly Scottish brogues and dueling golf clubs. “Julius Caesar” borrows a famous line from Donald Trump: “You’re fired.” These major plays are dealt with summarily, but their essence is addressed rather well, given the time constraints.

Things start to speed up with the sonnets, the earliest plays, the history plays, and the comedy plays. Each category is lumped together for efficiency. The entire second act is reserved for “Hamlet,” transforming it into a time trial by the end. 

Audience members may find themselves onstage or otherwise participating in the production. They may also enjoy the “Game of Thrones” and South Fork references in this adaptation. Although there were many children present, some of the material was a bit mature for them, but the coarsest jokes seemed to go entirely over their heads.

The actors include two of the company’s founding members, Ian J. Harkins and Rafe Terrizzi, who have some ties to the area with an enthusiastic fan base of friends and family. They have also traveled far and wide for other productions and films. Mr. Harkins’s credits include roles in “Boardwalk Empire,” “American Hustle,” and plays throughout the United States and Europe. Mr. Terrizzi’s credits include more serious treatments of Shakespearean plays, such as “As You Like It” and “Henry IV, Part II.” Shannon Harris, who rounds out the trio, is a serious Shakespearean actress with roles in “The Winter’s Tale,” “Romeo and Juliet,” and “Comedy of Errors.” She has a master’s degree in classical acting from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London.

The actors are a tight, energetic team and deliver their lines with spot-on comedic timing. Their nimbleness of wit, language, and movement appears effortless, as light and bouncy as a summer sea breeze. They are graceful in even the most clumsily clownish maneuvering, and their high-energy hijinks are exhilarating and almost exhausting. 

This is the first of what Kimberly Loren Eaton, the company’s artistic producer, promised to be regular productions for the cultural center, giving Southampton its first professional theater company. Welcome!