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Wednesday, December 17, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 24.0° F  Overcast
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Much ado about everything
Madison Theatre Guild presents Shakespeare - all of it
Complete Works is a broad burlesque of the Bard's canon.
Complete Works is a broad burlesque of the Bard's canon.

In The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), Madison Theatre Guild squeezes Shakespeare's 17 comedies, 10 histories and 10 tragedies into less than two hours (through Feb. 24 at the Bartell Theatre). It's like an English major's manic dream the night before the exam. Rollicking is probably the word, but ribald and zany work too.

The show was created by the Reduced Shakespeare Company, and here the many roles are played by Daniel Graupner, Thomas Kasdorf and Andrew Valdez-Cody. The energetic trio perform a broad burlesque of the Bard's cherished canon, "heralding a future where manly men will wear pink tights with pride." Along with tights, the production features a full complement of plastic daggers and swords, crowns, wigs and the XXL dresses in which cross-dressed Valdez-Cody maintains his outrageous edge from Juliet to Cleopatra to Ophelia.

The irreverent mayhem includes a rap version of Othello that somehow involves green Jell-O, and Titus Andronicus as a television cooking show hosted, offhandedly, by a blood-spattered Graupner. All Shakespeare's comedies are tidily distilled into a single play about - you guessed it - a duke, several pairs of twins, fairies, a storm, islands and a fish monster. The histories take the field as an improbable Super Bowl game where the Henrys and the Richards kick the crown around. Between puns and pratfalls it's just possible to catch enough shreds and scraps of familiar lines to stay oriented.

Actually, these actors really know their Shakespeare. At one point, as if to prove he isn't just a clown, Valdez-Cody tears through one of Hamlet's soliloquies almost without drawing breath. But then it's back to Hamlet as high craziness, including a particularly inspired bit with sock puppets. As a finale, the cast performs the entire tragedy in fast-forward and then on rewind.

The Complete Works calls for some improvisation by the actors. Now and then they go into a huddle to plan their next attack - mystifying at first, and it tends to slow the otherwise well-paced momentum. Also be warned: There will be forays into the audience, and you may be chosen for a starring role.

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