The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Very, very abridged.

I guess you could say I’m Jeff’s understudy when it comes to theater reviews. I get to cover a few high school productions, and on occassion, he throws me a bone and lets me cover something on the other end of the spectrum. Usually when he is otherwise engaged.

That’s how I found myself at the Chenango River Theatre in Greene on Friday for opening night of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).” Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I relished the opportunity to pay another visit to the venue, which happens to be the only equity theater in the Southern Tier. Meaning that each show features professional actors, all card-carrying members of one actor guild or another.

I love our local community theater and school productions, don’t get me wrong, but there is definitely something to be said for seeing professionals on the stage. And we’re lucky to have them right in our backyard.

I’d seen “The Complete Works” performed before and thoroughly enjoyed it, but I raised my expectations up a notch based on my past experiences with Chenango River Theatre. And I assure you, CRT’s 2010 season opener did not disappoint. The show’s three stars – Drew Kahl, Sean Marrinan and Jack Harris, who both acts and directs the show – are all veterans of the stage. Their years of training and experience brought the show to a whole new level in my eyes.

For those who have never had the opportunity to see this show before, it is exactly what the title implies: a very, very abridged rendition of all 37 plays penned by the Elizabethan playwright known as the Great Bard.

Yep, that’s right. All 17 comedies, 10 tragedies and the 10 plays known as “the Histories.” In two hours or less.

How on Earth do they manage it? Well, that would spoil the fun. Let’s just say it takes a lot of creativity, energy, props and costume changes to pull it all off. And did I mention humor? The show is rioutously funny. Even the Tragedies. Actually, especially those were the funniest parts..

You simply haven’t lived until you’ve seen the rap version of “Othello.” Or “Titus Andronicus” as a cooking show. Ditto “Hamlet” in reverse.

Originally written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, there is plenty of latitude in the script for current pop culture and local references. The coziness of Chenango River Theatre sets the perfect stage for dialog between the cast and the crowd, not to mention a bit of audience participation.

Lovers of the bard’s work will thoroughly enjoy the show. But the beauty of this show is its universal appeal. You don’t have to love Shakespeare – or even be all that familiar with any of his plays – to get your fill of belly laughs from this production.

“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” will appear at the Chenango River Theatre through June 27. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. For more information visit Ticket prices range from $18 to $22. Discounts are available for children and students.

For tickets, call CRT’s 24-hour reservation line at 656-TIXX (8499).

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