Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)

Vortex Theatre
Review by Carla Cafolla

Caleb Daniel Ramsell and Ryan Jason Cook
Photo by Ryan Dobbs
We've been tripping over Shakespeare here in Albuquerque lately: the city-sponsored New Mexico Shakespeare Festival featuring Love's Labour's Lost and Romeo and Juliet, directed by Shepherd Sobel and Peter Kierst, respectively, just ended; and now this week sees the opening of both Shakespeare in Hollywood at the Adobe Theatre and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) at the Vortex Theatre, under the direction of Ryan Jason Cook.

The Vortex production is a rambunctious, high-spirited and energetic performance of the 1987 send-up of the Bard's canonical collection of compositions, written and originally performed by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield, aka The Reduced Shakespeare Company. This comedy, after its initial Edinburgh Festival Fringe debut, went on to play for nine years in London's West End, and has been produced many times in this country and around the world.

Shakespeare in its uncut form is, I think, rather like healthcare—not everyone gets it. Abridged, however, is a different kettle of fish entirely. This parody is open to all, and though the more familiarity one has, the more enjoyment one gets, it is certainly also true that everyone will come away with, if not a greater understanding, at least some reassurance that the Bard is not to be feared. So bring your kids.

Te play has been cleverly updated (cell phones and a Miley Cyrus reference to name a couple), as the hyperactive and intensely physical trio of waggish entertainers dismantle some of the most famous lines in English literature and spew them out at warp speed. Thirty-seven plays in a couple of hours leads to a veritable reformation: 36 plays in the first act alone, interpreted and depicted with irreverent hilarity; Romeo and Juliet's balcony scene is a riot, Juliet's sigh a la Meg Ryan, even more so. The "Scottish play" has more r's than all clans combined, and I doubt one could call oneself a Shakespeare scholar unless one has lived through the experience of an Andronicus patris et filia high-five. The second act is Hamlet. Oozing agony, our hero is bested only by Ophelia, who takes her final scene to new heights, or rather depths. Never before, and probably never again, shall I laugh aloud as someone drowns. The audience also seemed to loved the show—the guy in front of me was wiping his eyes throughout, especially when King John (I think), sat on his lap, and the girl beside me repeated almost everything that was said onstage, so she could laugh again. With a lot of intentional (and some unintentional) audience participation, this show will be different each time, adding to the fun.

Ryan Jason Cook, Daniel T. Cornish, and Caleb Daniel Ramsell play themselves, playing themselves playing Shakespeare. It's not as complicated as it sounds—we are introduced to the cast as if we were aboard a plane, and the preflight safety check is our initiation into the ensuing lunacy. Very clever. Cook and Cornish performed this show together six years ago at Albuquerque Little Theatre and were great in their multiple roles. They are a lot of fun, jointly and individually.

The absolute standout, however, is Caleb Ramsell. This youngster just turned twenty and is quite remarkable. His seemingly boundless talents are used to great effect here. He not only steps in and out of a slew of characters, but also has a charming and disarming way about him, alternately leaping or strolling across an ultimately nonexistent fourth wall. Ramsell is like everyone's annoying younger brother: you need him to make up the team, and generally he does as he's told. It's the other times, the times he asks questions, the times he just doesn't want to play, the times he wants his own way—it's these times, peppered throughout the performance, when Ramsell really shines. Ramsell will find himself in great demand if he hasn't already.

When the illustrious trio initially came leaping out to greet us, I recognized their shirts as Carolyn Hogan classics; the remainder of the very extensive costuming owes its existence to Rhonda Backinoff, who is obviously having a blast with this production. The set is lovely, beautifully constructed and painted. Its earnest solemnity is a perfect dupe to the hullabaloo that follows—kudos to Ryan Jason Cook and others. I also send a shout-out to the tech folks for their contortions—there is a whole lot going on with this one. In fact, a shout-out to everyone involved. The A/C was non-existent the night I attended, and the entire audience (of almost a full house) fanned themselves constantly—hot as we were, I cannot imagine how the cast and dressing crew coped with the enormous number of costume changes. I sincerely hope the air conditioning has been repaired.

Altogether, this is a very fun show, and highly recommended. I got the greatest kick out of it, and intend making a return visit to catch many of the "blink and you miss it" moments I know I for sure, missed.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), through August 18, 2019, at The Vortex Theatre, 2900 Carlisle Blvd. NE, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7.30pm, Sundays at 2.00pm. Tickets are $22.00 and available at, by calling 505-247-8600, or directly at the box office.