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Hilarious Compact Shakespeare Now Served with Drinks

"The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)," which moves to the NY Improv October 1. L-R: Matt Neely, Scott Phillips and Brian Costello. Photo by Gerry Goodstein.
by Jonathan Slaff

Phoenix Theatre Ensemble will open its third season with a remounting of "The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged)" by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield. The production will be staged at The New York Improv, 318 W 53rd St., where the atmosphere will be ideal for this frothy, funny frolic. Last season's mounting at Theatre Three (311 W. 43rd Street, 3rd floor, April 15 to May 6, 2006) proved a delight, but was overshadowed by Phoenix's coinciding production of "Wolfpit" by Glyn Maxwell. The re-mounting is intended to share a delicious production with a wider audience in a venue which is unabashedly for comedy.

The piece is an irreverent, fast-paced romp through all 37 plays and 154 sonnets in just 96 minutes. When first produced by The Reduced Shakespeare Company at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1987, it was initially regarded as something of a Shakespeare parody on the level of Animal House. It became a major and recurrent hit at Edinburgh and settled in for a ten-year run in London's West End at the Criterion Theatre, where it became one of the main theatrical attractions in Piccadilly Circus. It has even entered the repertories of leading European drama theatres, including national and state theatres which customarily only present the classics, ancient and modern.

The vehicle is usually presented as a tour de force for three comedians. Improvisation plays a heavy role and it is normal for the actors to deviate from the script and break into spontaneous conversations about the material with each other and the audience. Usually, there are references to pop culture, local people and the neighborhood; each performance is vastly different, even with the same cast.

The actors are Scott D. Phillips, Brian Costello and Matt Neely. Director is Michael Surabian. Set design is by Robert Klingelhoefer. Costume design is by Nicole Frachiseur.

The actors of the Phoenix, known primarily as classicists, were hungry for a comedy and took up the piece as something that would be unexpected, given their backgrounds. Co-founder Craig Smith explains, "It takes a lot of confidence to do this kind of comedy. With Brian, Scotty and Matt we have highly experienced classical actors who are at ease with this type of mayhem." Why the revival? "We were doing it with 'Wolfpit' by Glyn Maxwell, as a lighter counterpart to a rather heavy play. And after the success last spring, one night over drinks we thought how much fun it would be to do CW over drinks. So here we are now at the Improv."

Scott D. Phillips played Dick in Kevin Brofsky's "Albee Damned" and Arnie in "Movie Lover- Dancin' Straight" (Tosos II), Juan/Michael in Metroplitan Playhouse's "The East Village Chronicles," LaCroix in "Danton's Death" (Prospect Theatre Co.), the Young Shepherd in "The Winter's Tale" (Texas Shakespeare Festival), Baz in "A Bright Room Called Day" (Freunde der Italienischen Oper, Berlin) and Jacob in "Freedom Train" (Theatreworks/USA). He occasionally appears on ABC-TV's "One Life to Live." He holds an M.F.A. degree from the University of Texas at Austin and a Bachelor's degree from the Pennsylvania State University, but he set them down as he needed to free up both hands to perform in this show.

Brian Costello was previously seen in Phonix's "Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been," "Plays In A Pub" and "Under Milkwood." Past roles include: Benedick in "Much Ado About Nothing," Hal in "Henry IV," Touchstone in "As You Like It," Che in "Evita," and Jinx in "Forever Plaid." He has a bachelor's degree in acting and directing from Binghamton University.

Matt Neely previously appeared with Phoenix Theatre Ensemble in Kafka's "The Trial." His Shakespeare credits in New York include "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (Puck) and "Twelfth Night" (Sebastian). In addition to theater, he has produced and acted in several movies, including the feature "Today Will Be Yesterday Tomorrow" (New York International Film and Digital Video Festival) and the shorts "Marcy and Shea" (Woodstock Film Festival), "The Librarian Wants Chinese" (BAM) and "The Grass That's Never Green." He holds an MFA in Acting from Carnegie Mellon and The Moscow Art Theater, as well as a BS in Theater from Skidmore College. He studied at the National Theater Institute, the Saratoga International Theater Institute and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.

Michael Surabian (Director) received his BFA from Hofstra University and his MFA from the Professional Theatre Training Program at The University of Delaware. Since graduating, he has worked regionally as an actor, writer and director at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, the Texas Shakespeare Festival and a number of off and off-off Broadway theaters, including the Accidental Theatre, Soho Rep, the Metropolitan Playhouse and the original Jean Cocteau Rep.

Last season, Nytheatre.com (Josephine Cashman) praised the cast, writing: "Their love of the play is evident, their enthusiasm is infectious, and they hurl themselves into the comic fray with fearlessness and abandon," regretting only that the production was constrained by being staged on the set of "Wolfpit." At the New York Improv, there will be more space, and drinks.

This production is appropriate for kids 12 and up, and soft drinks will be available for the beverage minimum.

October 1 to 31 The New York Improv (318 W 53rd St, between 8th and 9th Avenues)
Production schedule: Oct 1 at 2:00 pm, Oct 3 at 7:00 pm, Oct 7 at 2:00 pm, Oct 8 at 2:00 pm, Oct 14 at 2:00 pm, Oct 15 at 2:00 pm, Oct 16 at 7:00 pm, Oct 17 at 7:00 pm, Oct 21 at 2:00 pm, Oct 22 at 2:00 pm, Oct 28 at 2:00 pm, Oct 29 at 2:00 pm, Oct 30 at 7:00 pm, Oct 31 at 7:00 pm.
$35 (which includes 2 drink minimum)
Box office/audience info: 212-352-3101 or www.phoenixtheatreensemble.org
Flex passes available: $35-$150. See website for details.


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