By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Abridged
According to the advertisement, those who like Shakespeare will like Shakespeare (Abridged), and those who hate Shakespeare will love this version of his plays. And the ad's about right. Despite the existence of The Complete History of America (Abridged), The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged), All the Great Books (Abridged), and plenty of others, the (Abridgement) of the Bard is the one really awesome gimmick The Reduced Shakespeare Company ever came up with — you can tell how new and very unformulaic the formula was when the Company's struggling founders first invented it, and despite two decades and more of constant performance, the Bard's (Abridgement) still feels novel and fun, like the product of kids being insouciant just for the sheer thumb-plucking hell of it. The jokes are not deep — cramming every Shakespeare play into 90 minutes, as Shakespeare (Abridged) tries to do, does not lend itself to deep textual analysis — but only hopeless malcontents will bitch. When Romeo says, "Call me but love, and I'll be new Baptized..." and Juliet (played by a man) says, "Hooookay, Butt Love," the rest of us just grin.
Joe Turner's Come and Gone
This production is yet more proof that August Wilson is damned near indestructible. If he wasn't, the blunt direction and hammy, uneven acting of this play would cause a mass exodus at each intermission, yet people stick around for Wilson's crazy poetics — and maybe, maybe, for actress Lela Elam. Joe Turner is the 1910s installment of Wilson's Pittsburgh Cycle, an epic, decade-by-decade examination of the black experience in America. It takes place in a metal-worker's boarding house where everyone seems to be looking for something — home, dignity, identity, money. Herald Loomis, the newest boarder, is looking for his wife, whom he hasn't seen since being captured by a chain-gang operator (the titular Turner) a decade earlier. The script hinges on a weird, spooky relationship between Herald and another boarder, the shaman named Bynum Walker. Unfortunately, the actors handling the parts of Loomis and Walker (Herman Carabali II and Chat Atkins, respectively) are total bumblers — affected, graceless, and plain annoying. (Listen to Atkins put on that pinched old-man voice, as he seems to do for so, so many roles. The guy's 30 years old, for Chrissakes — can't anyone ever cast him as a non-septuagenarian?) The only thing that makes this Joe Turner palatable at all is the performance of Ms. Elam. Relegated to what's almost a walk-on role and utterly incidental to the plot, Elam's the kind of artist who owns any stage she touches. As a corseted, libidinous gold digger with champagne tastes and a sub-beer pocketbook, she swaggers with the automatic authority of Mick Jagger, and in her long looks and breathless speech, imbues her every line with almost more sexiness than it can bear.
Gutenberg! The Musical!
Through January 4. Actors Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables; 305-444-9293, www.actorsplayhouse.org
This is Gutenbergs premise: Two men have created a musical about Johannes Gutenbergs invention of the printing press, and they are trying to sell it to an audience of producers (thatd be you) by running through the whole thing with piano accompaniment and taking on all the roles themselves. This is the kind of broad, toothless, metatheatrical concept like Forbidden Broadway designed to appeal to musical-loving old people who dont mind having a laugh at the expense of their favorite idiom. But Gutenberg turns out to be for someone else. Really, this is a show for members of the current, Adderall-besotted generation: young people with bleak outlooks; folks who like their humor discordant, absurdist, and sooo random. Gutenberg will inspire love and helpless giggling in those young people who salved their high school ennui on Albino Blacksheep or Something Awful and if you dont know what those things are, stay home. For those on my wavelength, let me say this: Gutenbergs villain, a monk by the name of Monk, stabs his pet kitty in the head with a pencil, over and over again, and as a boy murdered his father after meeting Satan in a haunted German wood. Why? Better to ask, Why not? Also, major props to actors Wayne LeGette and Francisco Padura, two of the hardest-working men in showbiz, for bringing to life some dozen-plus characters in front of an audience that absolutely refuses to laugh. Wayne and Francis, I promise its got nothing to do with you guys. Its the dead baby jokes. Old people hate dead baby jokes.