For those who think Shakespeare is only for the intellectually elite, I suggest a visit to the South Bend Civic Theatre for a crash — and I do mean CRASH — course in almost everything by the Bard of Avon. “
The Compleat Wrks of Wm Shkspr (Abr.)” opened Friday evening on the Wilson Mainstage and, after joining in the mayhem Saturday evening, I have to wonder if the cast of thousands . . . actually three men . . . will make it through the six more scheduled performances without actual bodily injury. Beginning rather sedately with an invitation to “intellectual salvation,” Cecil Eastman, Matthew Fox and Ted Manier (who co-directed with Executive Director Jim Coppens) proceeded to romp through “Romeo and Juliet,” “Titus Andronicus” (presented as a cooking school … think about it!), “Othello” (done as a rap due to the lack of an African American leading man), “Macbeth” (with resonantly rolling Rs reaching all the way to Brigadoon), “Julius Caesar,” “Anthony and Cleopatra,” and mention of the “obscure/lesser/bad” plays (“Troilus and Cressida,” “Two Noble Kinsmen”?) described with interpretive dance, a toy gorilla and an inflatable dinosaur. The 16 comedies were compiled and referenced in one because, as the trio observed, all use the same comedic devices. The histories took on the form of a royal sporting event (football, what else? it is South Bend!) with the crown passing from Richard II and III to all the Henrys while heads rolled and downs were destroyed. Intermission was signaled when Ted refused to do “Hamlet” as the second act and was chased up the aisle by an irate Matthew while Cecil “played” for time. Inevitably, the Prince of Denmark took center stage and expanded his domain into the audience as an Ophelia was selected for screaming purposes and a young man for something else, I never was quite sure what but he ran back and forth a lot. Not to feel left out, the crowd was split into several sections and assigned different lines which we were to shout out as directed. The result, no surprise, was complete bedlam. Also, no surprise, it was a huge hit with the audience. The grand finale, a triple mega-mix of the Danish tragedy, concluded with the fastest recap done . . . backwards. My primary impression was that the actors, who handled the actual Shakespeare with differing degrees of success, had to be exhausted! In and out, up and down, they never obviously missed an entrance or an exit or a costume change, and there were at least 15 per minute of the last. Their energy level never fell below 1,000 percent. This makes it a shame that, once again, the primary drawback is the acoustical setup of the main stage auditorium. It plagues every production and, in this, renders much of the rapid-fire dialogue unintelligible. I can only hope that some sort of solution can be found. For performance dates and times and tickets, check the South Bend Civic website.