WESTERLY — The Colonial Theater has announced a major change in this summer’s popular Shakespeare in the Park program. “Twelfth Night,” Shakespeare’s comedy about a set of shipwrecked twins, is out. “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield will take its place.
“Given that this year was a tight year and a difficult fundraising climate, we had to make some choices,” Harland D. Meltzer, producing artistic director, said Wednesday afternoon. “But I promise that this show will be rewarding for the audience. It’s nonstop laughing from start to finish.”
Meltzer, who noted that the costs of producing a full-fledged Shakespeare play include housing, auditions, lighting, sound, costumes and modest stipends for the actors. Admission has never been charged although the theater always asks for donations.
“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” has just three actors in two acts, he said, making for a smaller, less complicated production.
The Colonial production will star Paul Romero, a Shakespeare in the Park regular, Mark Irish, who has been in a number of Colonial productions, and newcomer Jason Guy.
The story of how the play came to be written is a comedy in itself, said Meltzer, and adds to the hilarity.
In August 1981, he explained, a few young performers set out to create a half-hour version of “Hamlet,” for the Novato, Calif., Renaissance Pleasure Faire.
“In the words of Daniel Singer, one of the performers,” said Meltzer, “ ‘The result was far more comical than I had originally planned. Our venue was hot, dusty, noisy, and full of distractions. Holding an audience’s attention was unusually challenging. Drunken hecklers, intrusive parades, and backstage confusion forced us to improvise bits . . . which constantly improved as our schtick evolved.’”
The conditions were reminiscent of what many scholars imagine the young William Shakespeare himself would have faced traveling through Renaissance England and later in his own Globe Theatre on the South Bank of London, Meltzer said.
“Four hundred years and an ocean apart,” he said, “similar timeless comedic elements are shared: actor to audience interaction, limited use of scenery, contemporary allusions and, of course cross-dressing.”
Since its inception, Meltzer added, “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” has been seen on stages across the world, with a decade-long run on London’s West End.
The play is an irreverent, fast-paced romp through all of Shakespeare’s 37 plays and 154 sonnets in just 96 minutes, Meltzer said., with improvisation playing an active role. It’s common for the actors to veer from the script and break into spontaneous conversations about the material with each other and the audience, he added.
“It’s a lot of fun, and it’s very funny,” said Meltzer. “What’s better than that? And they’ll be out before 10.”
“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” will be performed Tuesdays to Sundays at 8 p.m. from July 30 through Aug.17