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Theater Review: Theater Artists Olympia brushes up its Shakespeare

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From left: Scott Douglas, Dennis Worrell and Patrick Gilmore in “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)[Revised]” at Theater Artists Olympia. Photo credit: The AC Studio.

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You'd be amazed how hard it is to find genuinely funny play scripts these days. A few decades ago, it seems to have dawned on budding Neil Simons that the real money's in TV, and off they went, never to return. So when, in 1987, three American dudes brought their madcap review of Shakespeare's plays (and sonnets!) to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, it was only a matter of time before their efforts spawned productions all over the world. I've been in one myself, eight years ago in Oklahoma, and I can tell you The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is one of the most difficult yet rewarding shows I've ever taken on. It's Sisyphean to memorize, exhausting to perform, and stressful in that each audience presents new opportunities and challenges. It's also more fun than a barrel of Vikings.

If you're a regular theatergoer, chances are you've already seen a production, perhaps one starring Chris Cantrell. That popular Olympia actor directed a new version for Theater Artists Olympia (TAO), an avant-garde company freshly ensconced in its idiosyncratic, full-time venue, the Midnight Sun. The troupe did admirable work cleaning and renovating the space, but it's still a glorified garage, too small for full-scale Elizabethan spectacle. No matter; that's not what this is. It's just three funny actors cracking wise about English history, pop culture, the news, and (for some reason) a nearby resort hotel. It owes as much to Monty Python as it does to iambic pentameter, and huzzah.

The redoubtable Scott Douglas, last enjoyed in Animal Fire Theatre's Two Gentlemen of Verona, here braves the daunting role of ... Scott Douglas. He purports to be a Shakespeare scholar but knows little more than what he found on Wikipedia. Dennis Worrell, so funny in TAO's An Improbable Peck of Plays 3D last month, outdoes himself as Dennis Worrell, an actor struggling to keep his show together in the face of extended interruptions. His monologue at the end of Act I, a convincing portrayal of thespian terror, is a special delight. Then there's Patrick Gilmore, a recent graduate of The Evergreen State College, who brings wide-eyed enthusiasm to the role of audience member Patrick Gilmore. The playwrights specifically invite companies performing the show to write and ad-lib new material, and I heard quite a bit of that. Most of it was wonderful. These are three very smart, funny people, and my wife and I enjoyed their work immensely.

Yes, their entrances could use some tightening up, but that'll come with time. As I said, this is an arduous show to memorize and rehearse, so I'm impressed when it's ready for opening night at all. More importantly, it's funny from beginning to end, extracting laughs from even Shakespeare's comedies. Believe me, that's more difficult than it sounds.

THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED) [REVISED], 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and Oct. 19, 2:30 p.m. Oct. 26, Midnight Sun Performance Space, 113 Columbia St. NW, Olympia, $12, 360.259.2743

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