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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

A Twenty-first Century Shakespeare Experience

What do the themes songs from “Star Trek,” “The Godfather,” “Jaws,” along with songs “Dancing Queen” and “Thriller” have to do with William Shakespeare? The answer was found in last week’s UMB Theatre Department’s performance of “The Complete Works of Shakespeare: Abridged” by Adam Long, Daniel Singler, and Jess Winfield.

“Abridged” covers all of William Shakespeare’s 36 plays and 154 sonnets, begging the question – how is this possible with only six performers and two hours of show time? Remarkably, that’s how. The cast was able to cover each play and each sonnet in a very unique and interesting way. From “Romeo and Juliet” to “Hamlet,” the play managed to introduce Shakespeare to those who are unfamiliar with his work by bringing his 16th century writings into the 21st century.

The actors were well versed in Shakespeare, allowing them to switch from one play to another at a moment’s notice. The overlapping of various musical themes and songs with the narrative provided the play with its comedic pacing.

The first play was the tragic love story of “Romeo and Juliet.” Eric Barriere played the lead character of Juliet. From the moment he stepped onto the stage, dressed in an umpire waist, crimson gold, long dress, wearing a black wig of long hair, it immediately caught the audience’s attention. The rhetoric between Juliet and Romeo (Michael Franco) was a mixture of 16th Century prose and 21st century slang. During the death scene when Juliet awakens to see Romeo lying dead beside her, Shakespeare’s original passage reads, “This is thy sheath, there rest, and let me die.” Juliet looks at the sheath insinuating that the “sheath” is bigger than Romeo’s “jewels.”

As the cast incorporated all sixteen of Shakespeare’s comedies, such as “A Midsummer’s’ Night Dream” into one piece, they used rap music to connect the lines of each play together. While three cast members stood off to the right of the stage reciting passages, the other three cast members imitate the performances and movements of modern day rap stars.

Historical plays such as “Richard II” and “Henry VIII” become a cheer leading sequence during a football game. The play “Titus Andronicus” becomes a cooking show teaching the audience how to kill and make an appetizing dish of another human being, while in “Hamlet,” Barriere shines with his comedic portrayal of the doomed Ophelia in a white gown, and a long blond wig.

During the scene in which Hamlet tells the love struck Ophelia, “Go thee to a nunnery,” Barriere acts as though he does not want to play Ophelia and reaches out to the audience for help. A volunteer from the audience is brought up on stage to try and portray Ophelia. Frightened as the reluctant volunteer was, it was not well enough according to the play’s cast. Believing that the audience can help motivate the volunteer, the cast decided to section the audience into three areas, A, B and C. Section A was told to scream; “Get thee to a nunnery,” section B was told to raise their arms and sway their hands back and forth, and section C was to yell out “Cut the crap Hamlet, my biological clock is ticking.” After numerous times and practices the cast tells the sections to yell at the same time over and over again, hoping to give the volunteer some “chutzpah” and scream convincingly at the top of her lungs. She succeeds.

Each cast member comes to the UMASS Performing Arts Department during different times and experiences in their lives. Eric Barriere has been acting since he was six. He is a senior, majoring in Theater Arts. Amy Hanley is a transfer student in the School of Management from Williamsville, NY and this is her first performance at UMB. Michael Franco is a long time performer and is making his debut at UMB and in addition he does stage work as an improv and as a stand-up comedian throughout the region. Stephanie Rogers is returning to the stage after a five-year hiatus. Stephanie is an English Major and has a love of Shakespeare. Stephanie has also completed her first novel “The Stone and the Feather” this past summer. Paul Norton not only is an actor, but he also is a master electrician. Laura Kain has theater credits which include “The Marriage of Bette and Boo,” which she performed at the McCormick Theater. But she has also performed in many other plays outside of UMB. When she has free time she studies classical voice at the South Shore Conservatory and has sung with the Sydney Singers at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Australia.

Even though there were six actors who performed the play, the idea and type of acting known as improvisation was well timed and so well tuned that even Shakespeare would have to compliment the writers, actors, and crew for creating such a whimsical and inventive way to bring non Shakespearean students into his world and his writings. As the actors so graciously said ” If you liked the play tell your friends, if you didn’t like the play still tell your friends, either way we are going to Disney World.”