Complete Works of William Shakespeare

Pictured are Jed Parsario*, Robyn Grahn and Sydney Schwindt in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)[revised], 2019. *Member of Actor’s Equity

People who like Shakespeare are going to love this play. People who don’t like Shakespeare are going to love this play.

As for me? I’m going to have a devil of a time describing this play.

Here goes, but please know I’m understating everything.

“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)[revised]” is a brilliant, laugh-out-loud roller coaster ride that teeters on the edge of its tracks, threatening to become completely unhinged at any moment. It is an absolutely delicious thrill ride.

“We've been describing it as Shakespeare meets Monty Python!” says Director Mary Ann Rodgers. “I knew from the start that the show would require smart, skilled actors with a lot of strength, stamina and flexibility — and who knew how to have a good time. These three actors DO come to play.”

Yes, three. Just three actors...covering all 37 of the Bard’s plays in 97 minutes. I tip my hat to actors Robyn Grahn, Sydney Schwindt and Jed Parsario. Their talents are breathtaking to behold.

“As random and loose as the show appears,,” says Rodgers, “it requires a tremendous amount of focus, strength, discipline, and precision in performance.”

The show begins with a parody of Romeo and Juliet, followed by Titus Andronicus performed as a cooking show, then all the histories are acted out as a football game with the ball being a crown.

“The show was not like I expected,” says Zachary George, a freshman at Foothill High School in Pleasanton. “I thought that it would be boring and serious, but it was neither. One of my favorite scenes was when the actors did Othello. Even though Othello is normally a serious tragedy, they made it light, interesting and funny by rapping it.”

The Complete Works is the last of Livermore Shakespeare Festival’s two summer productions, which take place outdoors, under the stars at Wente’s Estate Winery & Tasting Room, 5565 Tesla Road in Livermore.

“Livermore Shakespeare Festival is great,” says Jennifer Achtert, Zachary’s mom. “I like to support regional theater, enjoy a good show, and expose my son to cultural events that might not be his first choice. We saw A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2017 and were impressed, so we’ll keep coming back. I agree that the Othello rap was really well done; I thought the entire show was really funny and creative, while remaining tied to the original Shakespeare.”

The Wente venue offers an in-the-round stage, which is ideal for the Complete Works. The fourth wall is nonexistent, with actors speaking directly to the audience during much of the play, while the director and stage crew become characters in the play. Additionally, it is common for the actors to make references to pop culture, or to talk about local people or events.

Some scenes even require audience participation.

“We can rehearse everything that surrounds bringing an unknown person onstage, and we can do everything we can to keep them safe, but what will actually happen when that person is on stage is unknown, a little risky, and a lot of fun,” Rodgers says.

For the second act, the characters perform an abbreviated version of Hamlet, Shakespeare's greatest work. An audience member is asked to portray Ophelia for the Nunnery Scene, while the rest of the audience makes up Ophelia's subconscious, representing her ego, superego and id. From there, the roller coaster train gathers momentum, careening down the tracks with increasing speed (literally) before it collects itself, and starts to run backwards.

For an evening of non-stop laughs, irresistible joy, and entertainment that manages to be both witty and bawdy, get your tickets now. Upcoming shows run Thursday through Sunday: July 25-28, and August 1-4. All shows begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets typically range from $18 - $58. Wente wines are available to enjoy during the show.

This will be the last opportunity for attendees to see an in-the-round LSF production at Wente. Next year, LSF moves to traditional outdoor theater at Darcie Kent Vineyards, also on Tesla Road.

Asked if he would recommend The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)[revised] to other young people, Zachary adds, “I would say that this may not be the play to see if they want to see the more serious plays or to understand the whole story. However, if they want to see a funny play or get a basic idea of Shakespeare's plays while getting a good laugh, then they should go see it.”

To learn more, visit livermoreshakes.org.