Imagine the cast and crew sitting in the center of a see-saw.
A guy named Shakespeare sits on one end, and another named Comedy sits on the other. And it’s Swine Palace’s gang that must maintain the balance.
A delicate balance at that.
Shakespeare’s fans will argue that the Bard’s comedies are as great as his dramas. And they would be correct, but the comedy here takes things a step further because there were no cooking shows in Shakespeare’s day. At least none that are known. Yet the cast segues into a cooking show during Swine Palace’s production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). It’s just one of the vignettes that tie together this full slate of 37 Shakespeare plays and 154 sonnets.
“And we do it in about 97 minutes,” Kristina Sutton Udy said.
She’s the director of this production, the second in Swine Palace’s three-play Summer Festival. It opens Tuesday, July 17, in the Studio Theatre at LSU.
The play was written in 1985 by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield. It premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with the playwrights as its stars.
“And the idea is that we’re caught with our pants down, so to speak,” Benjamin Kouchenik said. “The audience walks in, and it’s as if they’re catching us before we’re ready to perform this play.”
“But we jump in and do it, because we have to,” Anthony McMurray added.
Theater fans will remember McMurray’s performance as Petruchio in Swine Palace’s first Summer Festival production, The Taming of the Shrew. He joins Kouchenik and Nic Hamel in forming the cast for this production.
“And we all are playing about 12 characters each,” Hamel said.
The characters’ names are always the first name of the actors who are playing them. Parts of the script are loose, allowing the cast to improvise lines.
“And the script allows us to update the humor,” McMurray said. “The joke about General Hospital was funny when it was written in 1985, but we have to update that.”
So, out with General Hospital and in with Jersey Shore. And Twilight. And Game of Thrones. And everything else that tops the pop culture charts these days.
And all of it is wrapped in Shakespeare. Or is Shakespeare wrapped in pop culture and comedy?
Well, enter the delicate balance.
“It’s funny,” Udy said. “The comedy is great.”
“But we’re careful about preserving the integrity of Shakespeare’s language while doing the comedy,” Hamel said. “That’s most important, because we want to convey our love of Shakespeare in this production.”
So, it’s true that the story will morph into a cooking show at one point, but Shakespeare’s language will be spoken with the utmost respect.
And audience members will be guaranteed not one but lots of laughs.
Udy knew she had to have highly skilled actors when casting this play. Kouchenik, Hamel and McMurray are all students in the LSU Department of Theatre’s Master of Fine Arts program and have been acting together in productions for the last couple of years.
“They know each other’s timing,” Udy said.
In other words, they were the perfect fit, because this story is told in a nonstop string of vignettes. The comic timing has to be perfect, and Shakespeare’s words must be spoken with classically trained voices.
There’s that balance again, and when done right, the audience is in for a fun ride.
And as for improvisation, well think of it this way: if you should decide to take in more than one performance of The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged), you’ll see a different show each time. Now, can you say that about any of the current summer movies?
Because at $10, the ticket price to this production is about the same as a movie ticket.
“And ours is 3-D,” Kouchenik said.
Without the glasses.
Now, Hamel is the only cast member who isn’t a newcomer to this play, having acted in it 12 years ago. McMurray and Kouchenik can’t help nodding their heads when Hamel describes his part in the play as, “a blast.” They’re now the ones having a blast.
While maintaining a balance.
- CAST: Benjamin Kouchenik, Ben; Nic Hamel, Nic; Anthony McMurray, Anthony.
- ARTISTIC STAFF: Kristina Sutton Udy, director; Jessica Jain, stage manager; Laurel McGehee, stage manager; Jason Bayle, sound design; Nic Hamel, lighting design; Jenny Ballard, scenic design; Michael Gruden, scenic design; Katrina Despain, costume design; George Judy, artistic director.