By Craig Mustoe
Zany. Silly. Manic . Madcap. Multiple Personality Disorder. All words describing succinctly what William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (Abridged) is like. We attended the premiere on Saturday at The Utah Shakespeare Festival and were stunned by its rapid-fire presentation of Shakespeare’s characters. Long Lost First Play written by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, and directed by Christopher Edwards is a wild ride and I’m very glad I was able to be there for opening night.
The premise: Three young men, played by Riley Shanahan, Marco Antonio Vega, and Luke Striffler, unearth (quite literally) Shakespeare’s first play, all 1000-plus pages of it. It includes all the plots, settings, and characters of his 39 plays. Or 40. Or 41. Anyway, Shakespeare found that this magnum opus was too big; after all it would take over 100 hours to present it. So, he broke it up into all the different plays as we know them today. However, these young men proceed to try to present everything (their minimum opus) in one sitting, often mixing and matching along the way. The resultant play is ridiculously hilarious.
One of the things that makes this production so fun is that they place many Disney movies in counterpoint to Shakespeare’s plays. They proceed to tell us which Disney movie stole which Shakespeare play. The Little Mermaid was foremost as an example. They mix up Ariel the little mermaid with Ariel in The Tempest. This is a running gag, Ariel coming out in a little mermaid outfit replete with a fishtail, a seashell bathing-suit top, and a long, unnaturally-red wig. Then, at appropriately wrong times he breaks into songs—some from TLM, some just from Disney.
While we’re on that subject, they do an unbelievable (see what I did there?) job portraying the female characters, from Lady Macbeth and the Weird Sisters to Beatrice and Goneril (take a wild guess what they call her.) And while we’re on that subject, they are not afraid to feature some of the Bard’s naughty jokes and a few of their own. Haven’t we all giggled about Lady Macbeth telling her husband to screw his courage to the sticking point? Wait till you see what these young artists do with that. You may not want to bring some of your younger family members if this is likely to offend you. But since even serious Shakespeare aficionados sometimes have the sly innuendos go over their heads, more innocent viewers may also miss them. But the humor is pretty broad in places. We found ourselves guffawing, roaring, and tittering throughout the play. Half the fun was hearing other audience members’ reactions.
Expect to see such strange pairings as Ariel vs. Puck, King Lear and the Weird Sisters, and Dromio and Juliet. In all, the play includes some 45 characters of the 1,223 the master created, including the Dolphin, I mean, Dauphin. While some characters are among the best-known, best-loved, and best-hated of the plays’ characters, many are rather unknown and/or minor. This can sometimes elicit a Huh? reaction. Really, the best way to prepare for this play is to read all of Shakespeare’s plays and watch every Disney movie ever made between now and when you see it. Seriously though, the better your understanding of Shakespeare’s plays, the better your enjoyment here. Having said that, though, anyone can enjoy the madcap frenetics (if Shakespeare can transform an adjective to a noun, so can I), crazy costumes, and physical comedy of this production without getting all the quips. In one instance, they joke about having to be a Shakespearian scholar to get some arcane point, then say that there are only two such in the audience anyway.
They execute rapid-fire costume changes in record time; sometimes their exit as one character and reentrance as another within seconds seems nearly impossible. And they make practically instantaneous entrances from different spots. The black-box theater lay-out allows them to run behind the seats to make this happen.
True to Shakespeare’s pattern, one bare set (Jo Winiarski) is used throughout the play. This consists of a wooden façade with a double set of stairs seen within the building, and a loft. This balcony is handy for scenes such as Juliet’s famous, “Wherefore art thou, Dromio?” scene, etc. The rest of the action is presented on the floor in front of the set.
Motifs include twins, ships and shipwrecks, storms, Italy, islands, magic woods, cross-dressing, and so forth, all jumbled together. My wife sat next to director Edwards (who laughed uproariously the whole time—a good sign) and she asked him what it was like to work with this script and these actors. He said he was very pleased with the opening night performance, and why shouldn’t he be? He got this show to its high-energy, tight pace, and great entertainment value with grand success. Costume Designer Alex Jaeger must have had a great time gathering the numerous, odd assortment of costume pieces for this show. They all work and add to the hilarity. Kudos to Lighting Designer William Kirkham and Sound Designer Barry G. Funderburg for their efforts. You wouldn’t think so, but this show employs quite a bit of lighting and sound effects and it adds to the chaotic fun.
It is hard to describe how zany the show is. There may or may not have been a few flubs, it being opening night. Maybe they were scripted. Or maybe, because it is the nature of this show, they were adlibs and meant to happen. Who knows and who cares?
Utah Shakespeare Festival brings a delightful assortment of shows this season, from Shakespeare comedies and tragedies, to Guys and Dolls, to a more gritty offering (How to Fight Loneliness, which opens 8/25) and fun family fare (The Tavern, opening 9/19.) There is something for everyone here at Utah Shakes. Fun, fast, clever William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (Abridged) isn’t a show you want to miss.
Utah Shakespeare Festival presents William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (Abridged) by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor
Eileen and Allen Anes Studio Theatre, 101-199 W University Blvd, Cedar City, UT 84720
July 28 – October 21, 2017, matinees at 2:00 PM and evening performances at 8:00 PM, varying days
Please visit www.bard.org for ticket availability, show dates, and times.