14Throughout his illustrious, history-making career, William Shakespeare is credited with having written around 37 plays. Beginning Feb. 17, the Gilbert Theater in downtown Fayetteville will attempt to perform them all.

With only three actors and 97 minutes, the Gilbert will take the audience on a hilarious speed-run through the Bard’s catalog with their performance of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).” The production will run from Feb. 17 through March 5.

According to actor Chris Walker, the play is a “distillation of the works of Shakespeare jammed together to create a farce — a comedy of immense ridiculousness.”
Walker, along with Dan Adams and Linda Flynn, round out the cast of three who will race through costume changes, character transitions and hilarious interpretations of the good, the bad and the obscure in Shakespeare’s canon.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Flynn confided. “But it’s a lot of work. The challenge is there are so many words and characters and just so many costumes — it goes pretty fast.”

The play is London’s longest-running comedy, written by Daniel Singer, Adam Long and Jess Winfield in the early 1980s. Its over-the-top energy, break-neck speed, and reliance on self-parody make it an ideal play for those who don’t know much about Shakespeare or feel alienated from his work due to the difficulty of the language.

“You don’t need to know anything about Shakespeare to enjoy this play — though who doesn’t know a little something about Shakespeare?” Walker mused. “It’s so universal; it’s something we all learn in one way or another.”

The play’s director, Lawrence Carlisle III, has been trying to bring the play to the Gilbert stage since the spring of 2020. The play was scheduled to debut in March of that year — then the world shut down due to the pandemic.

“When I took over as artistic director in 2020, this was the second show of my tenure,” he explained. “We postponed it a few times but eventually had to cancel the entire season.
I really enjoyed directing the show and knew I wanted to do it again someday.”

Now, three years later, Carlisle is excited to share his vision. Those attending should prepare themselves for some sword-fighting (both good and bad), jokes (both good and bad), and more than a little audience participation.

“That’s part of the comedy,” said Walker. “It’s supposed to be over the top.”

The play is rated PG-13 and best suited for audiences of middle-school age and up — perfect for a post-Valentine’s Day night date, secondary-school field trip, or a group of friends looking for something fun to do on a Friday night.

“The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged)” isn’t intended for hard-boiled literary purists or those looking to better understand Shakespeare’s work. Its purpose is a bit more straightforward, and its goal is very simple: it’s intended to make people laugh.

“I picked it because it’s funny, and I prefer comedy most of the time,” Carlisle said simply. “You shouldn’t take any of it too seriously.”

Tickets range from $13.25 to $21.25. For tickets and showtimes, visit the theater website at https://www.gilberttheater.com/. The Gilbert Theater is located at 116 Green St.

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