On Saturday afternoon the Novi High School Theater Department attempted an unprecedented feat. Eight actors performed the complete works of William Shakespeare —that’s 37 plays— in less than 45 minutes as part of the Michigan Interscholastic Forensic Association’s One Act Traveling Plays series.
The result was an entertaining performance that was both creative and funny, yet also somewhat rushed and, well, high schoolish.
Based on an original script written and performed by the British theater troupe, The Reduced Shakespeare Company, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised] infuses century-old plays with new life and present-day humor.
Novi’s eight actors rotated roles, costumes, and severed body parts with gusto and wit, all while wearing Chuck Taylors and making regular pop culture references. The ideal audience is one that is familiar with Shakespeare’s works, though anyone who can appreciate a cross-dressing Friar or a series of overdramatic deaths is in for a laugh.
Senior Sarah Campbell, who played Juliet and Ophelia (among other tragic heroines), and senior Hannah Patterson, who held a robust Scottish accent, both commanded the stage. The two young women energized scenes such as Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth with their clever antics and prompted their fellow actors to follow in suit.
Yet that energy fizzled when the actors began breaking the fourth wall and asking for audience participation. When an audience member’s reaction deviated from the supposed rehearsed responses, the actors were unprepared to improv.
Moments such as these spoke to the performers’ inexperience, as did some basic vocal projection problems and the frequent rushing of lines— though when performing the entire canon of the Bard in under an hour, a little rushing is expected.
The lights, costumes, and props were surprisingly well done for a traveling high school production. In the scene Titus Andronicus, red lights sprayed across the stage like blood as a throat was cut. The effect was simple but spot on. The awful wigs and retractable combat swords, too, were modest yet effective and provided just enough context and comedy.
Even the programs were creative. They took the form of stage notes, complete with intentional typos and an individualized message written by a member of the cast or crew.
So sure, Novi’s rendition of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised] was a bit amateur, but for 45 minutes and a high school budget, it was well done.