"When I saw Charlton Heston do 'Macbeth,' it almost turned me off to Shakespeare for my whole life," said Adam Long.
Now, Long does Shakespeare full-time. But it isn't Heston's brand of Shakespeare. The Reduced Shakespeare Company--Long, Jess Borgeson and Daniel Singer--cuts out all the fat, whittling the plays into manic three-man romps, ranging from about 2 to 20 minutes.
Today, the Reduced opens "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)" at the Cast Theatre in Hollywood. The trio will whip through Shakespeare's oeuvre (minus the sonnets) in approximately an hour.
Parts of "The Complete Works" have popped up at Renaissance Faires and other venues since 1981. But only this year, after the Reduced had booked itself into the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, did "The Complete Works" come together. The company wouldn't be on a bill with anyone else at the Fringe, said Borgeson, so "we realized we needed a full-length play."
Each member of the Reduced took a genre--comedies, tragedies or histories--and wrote two or three-minute treatments of each play. The plan was to present the group's existing 20-minute renditions of "Hamlet" and "Romeo and Juliet," plus condensations of the other plays (including "The Two Noble Kinsmen"). But after the first reading of all that material, the group changed its mind.
"It was terribly boring," said Singer. So the company limited 35 of the plays to a total of 20 minutes.
They blurred the edges between some of the plays. "We condensed the comedies into one because they're so much the same," said Borgeson. "Not very funny."
"The tragedies are much funnier," said Long.
"The Complete Works" garnered full houses and favorable reviews in Edinburgh. Two performances followed at the Los Angeles Fringe Festival. But the show continues to change. "Most of our choreography was born from avoiding getting in each other's way," said Singer.
"The stuff we do is extremely physical," said Borgeson. "We bounce off the walls. And none of us are trained acrobats."
"Which was OK when we were 19," said Long. (Long and Borgeson are now 26, born within 24 hours of each other, and went to high school together in Newbury Park. Singer is 27.)
It was Singer who had the idea to adapt Tom Stoppard's "Dogg's Hamlet" to a smaller cast. He met Borgeson and Long at a Renaissance Faire in Northern California, where the Reduced was born. When a woman who was initially part of the group sprained her ankle, Long took the women's parts. He still does them.
The group learned to rely on their audiences at the Renaissance Faires. "If you're not funny there," said Long, "people just walk away."
The members of the Reduced consider themselves part of "New Vaudeville," a movement made famous by the likes of the Flying Karamazov Brothers, Bill Irwin and Penn and Teller. "My favorite thing about New Vaudeville," said Singer, "is that there's a real sense of audience awareness, of shattering the fourth wall. In traditional theater, you do your best to build that fourth wall out of brick."
"It's the bee's knees," said Long who especially admires the dedication of its practitioners. "When you eat fire or play spoons, you're probably never going to become a household word.
"You do it for the love of it."