There are rough edges to the Prenzie Players' The Complete Works of William Shakespeare [abridged], due to a lack of polish and predetermined staging, that make it seem like you're watching the entertainment at a frat party. This, however, is much of what makes the Prenzies' production so much fun; its frenetic, improvisational feel heightens the entertainment value. With director Catie Osborn's staging making it feel like we, the observers, were actually part of the production itself, Saturday's performance was so raucous that patrons felt free to interact with the actors - such as by offering humorous back-talk - in ways audiences normally wouldn't.
Nate Curlott, Andy Koski, Adam Lewis, and Jake Walker do an excellent job here of acting as though they're improvising parodies of Shakespeare's works, even though they're reciting a script (by playwrights Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield) that covers nearly every single one of Shakespeare's works in condensed, often silly versions. Othello, for example, is presented as a rap - a tribute to the title character's African descent and considered, by Complete Works' actors, the least offensive way for white guys to portray the play - and all of Shakespeare's comedies are combined into one quick piece, with the justification being that they each use the same lame plot devices anyway. The author's history plays, meanwhile, are presented within the context of a football game, with the crown as the football and the various kings as the team.
During the course of the evening, Koski also gets to "act," particularly when comically overplaying his Hamlet; one of his best bits involves the "to be or not to be" monologue, during which Koski feigns being annoyed and distracted by a giggling audience member who's breaking his concentration. Lewis gets to make impressive use of various voices, some of them delightfully cartoonish, while also being the voice of reason in the midst of the chaos. Walker employs multiple spot-on accents, including Italian for Titus Andronicus (viewed here as a cooking show), French for Romeo and Juliet's Tibalt (complete with beret, scarf, and black-and-white striped shirt), and Scottish for a quick sword-fight version of Macbeth. And Curlott gets to play dumb a lot, and portray almost all of the women in wigs and falsetto voices, among them Juliet (misquoting her as saying, "That which we call a nose, by any other name, would still smell"), Cleopatra, Ophelia, Hamlet's chain-smoking mother Gertrude, and Macbeth's witches.
There's an audience-participation scene in the second act - one that involves Ophelia's id, ego, and unconscious - that proved a distraction during Saturday's performance, as it dragged quite a bit and took too long to explain and execute. Otherwise, I was much amused by the proceedings, and repeatedly realized I was wearing a big grin on my face throughout the performance. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) may be, to date, the sloppiest Prenzie Players production I've seen, but it's no less entertaining for it.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare [abridged] runs at St. Peter's Episcopal Church (2400 Middle Road, Bettendorf) at 8 p.m. on June 22 and 23, and the Establishment Theatre (220 19th Street, Rock Island) at 2 and 7 p.m. on June 24. For tickets and information, call (309)278-8426 or visit PrenziePlayers.com.