All the Bard’s plays in just one hour?

There are some shows that, due to public demand, get extended to run for another season. But one play has reappeared on several occasions over the past 10 years. This show is always a hit, but only for a limited number of performances at a time – the same formula that will be followed this time around as it takes the stage for its fourth run. And as strange as this formula may sound, it is actually fitting for a one-hour play titled «The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).» This American play, written by Jess Borgeson, Adam Long, Daniel Singer and J.M. Winfield, is a comedy that satirizes human weakness and is based on the entirety of Shakespeare’s plays; and as proof of its success, it has been playing at London’s West End Criterion Theater for the past seven years. It was first staged in Greece in 1994 at the Amore Theater in a production translated, adapted and directed by Constantinos Arvanitakis and starring Natalia Dragoumi, Akis Sakellariou, Ieroklis Michailidis and Stelios Mainas. One year later, the same cast presented it at the Dandoulaki Theater and four years later at the Ivi. In this year’s staging, at the Kivotos Theater in Athens’s Gazi district, Dragoumi and Sakellariou have been joined by Antonis Loudaros and Gerasimos Gennatas in place of Michailidis and Mainas, who were unable to participate in the production due to prior engagements. New ideas make richer production «The two new members of the cast,» says director Arvanitakis, «have brought new ideas that helped rejuvenate us and enrich the production. «I must explain that this production, from the onset, was developed in complete cooperation with the actors, who also had a hand at adapting this… absurd play.» The director agrees that the play does seem very absurd indeed. «It is a completely absurd idea, a wager that four actors make, that they have talent enough to play the entire works of Shakespeare, all 37 plays, in just one hour. «The process of achieving this brings out all the pettiness, rivalries and jealousies, the self-centeredness of the actors. We all know how the audience loves to have a behind-the-scenes peek, and here we give it a peephole through which it can look into the souls of the actors.» This roller-coaster ride of a play is not just amusing to the lay public, but to Shakespeare aficionados and scholars as well. «The ones who enjoy it most are those who are very familiar with Shakespeare’s work because they can catch all the clever little references,» observes Arvanitakis. «Next are people who work in the theater and then come the average spectators, who enjoy it because it works on so many different levels. All these weakness, selfish, petty pursuits and affronts are not restricted to actors. The audience knows this, sees it and always has a laugh.» Getting the audience in on it The director, however, has not made it too easy an experience for the audience. To make a success of this challenging concept, he and the actors have made the production very interactive, ensuring the audience’s participation. «We give them a really hard time; do the most incredible things. The audience members participate in the play fully and are put through the worst. I think this is actually one of the main reasons of the production’s success.» While translating the play from the original English, Arvanitakis saw the need to make some adaptations to the clearly Anglo-Saxon references and gags, and tailor it more to Greek culture. To this end, he developed the characters along the characteristics of the four original actors, stressing the group nature of this effort… «I could never have imagined that this American play – which had so disappointed me when I first read it in English – would end up becoming so vibrant, diverse and, I might say, even artistic. But that’s theater: a job that never ceases to amaze you.» «The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)» is on at the Kivotos Theater (115 Pireos, Gazi, tel 210.341.7000), Thursdays-Sundays at 9.15 p.m. and Wednesdays at 8 p.m. with additional 6.15 p.m. performances on Saturdays and Sundays.