Incredible: The enormously popular pastiche by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), has been around 35 years. This year at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s ever-popular Outdoor Stage presentation, Jeffrey M. Bender directs the work in its return to the Company with a slightly longer title, which tacks on “[revised].” Jon Barker, Connor Carew and Patrick Toon are the only cast members and their task is—that’s right—to present everything Shakespeare ever wrote in under 90 minutes.

What on earth?

Does that mean three men present Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear, Much Ado about Nothing, Measure for Measure, and Love’s Labours Lost? Well, yes. Those and 30 more stage works. So, does one of them play Juliet and other female characters? Yes, but they equitably share the lead women’s roles among them. Think late 1500s to mid-1600s: Shakespeare’s acting troupe, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men—later King’s Men—were all … well, men. So think of it as harking back to original theatrical practice.

Just kidding!

Don’t think of it that way at all. In fact, don’t bother thinking, period. Just go and enjoy this ingenious conflation of silliness, hijinks and hilarity. It’s both an homage to the Bard’s respectable, centuries-old output and an irreverent sendup that relishes all the real humor—and even humor Shakespeare never intended and carelessly neglected to write—in these timeless works.

Meet the cast

Jon Barker has performed leading roles with the Company during nine seasons.

A sort of emcee, he purposely recites excessive Shakespearean background doggerel about the difference between “folio” and “quarto,” intended to arouse the “intellectually flaccid.” He propels his costars through a dizzying series of reductions of the plays and, when short on time, series of plays—in this case, all the comedies in five minutes. Mr. Barker “does” neurotic extremely and endearingly well, and so many other moods and attitudes with lightning-speed shifts from one to another and back again, repeatedly, as to be virtually chameleonic.

Patrick Toon has played comedic and dramatic roles with the Company for ten seasons and now can add “dramedic” roles to his résumé. As a vertically elongated, slender, punk Romeo complete with skateboard entrance and askew pixie cut constantly covering his eyes, he melded, um, “serious” comedy with farcical drama into his own brand of statuesque silliness. The script is laden with misplaced stress, particularly for the sake of childish, yet curiously humorous, wordplay centering on the derrière, so that Romeo’s immortal balcony scene begins: “Butt-soft! What light through yonder window breaks?”

Connor Carew, in his seventh season with The Shakespeare Theatre, snares the lion’s share of female lead roles and is an especially unforgettable Juliet and Ophelia.

His, let’s say, rotund physique certainly made him a full-figured woman. That and the hairy chest guaranteed automatic laughter when appearing in something low-cut—even a gold lamé micro strapless bra. The high-pitched, anything-but-alluring voice and occasionally swaying robust hips are of the showstopper ilk.

… And their fearless leader

Director Jeffrey M. Bender, a consummate purveyor of high-octane buffoonery, is now in his 17th season with the Company. Had he also appeared onstage, one can only imagine the total overload of physical comedy antics, goofy expressions that somehow always look sincere and ingenuous clowning that purposely looks none too artful.

As it was, from offstage he directed the three actors in what must be a physically exhausting 90 minutes of always surprising, never repetitive, cardiac aerobics. Comedy is the most difficult form of acting, yet Mr. Bender and crew made it all seem effortless.

What are you waiting for? Go!

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised], through July 31st, at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, Outdoor Stage.

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