by Jenny Cvek, Assistant News Editor
“Think of this as the best Netflix original series. Think of this as Stranger Things with Shakespeare,” said senior theatre major Dawson Ehlke. As its title suggests, “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” covers a multitude of stories from the celebrated Bard. “Basically, if you’ve heard about a Shakespeare play, it is in this play somewhere,” explained sophomore public relations and theatre major Tommy McCarthy. Directed by Daniel McLaughlin, the contemporary comedy starring Dawson Ehlke, Michael Johnson, and Tommy McCarthy was performed at the University of Northwestern—St. Paul in the Patsy Miller Studio Theatre, otherwise known as the Black Box, from Jan. 12-21.
“It’s a show about three guys trying to undertake a feat that, in our minds, has never been done before, and that is to do the complete works of William Shakespeare in a single show,” said junior transfer student and theatre major Michael Johnson.
“It’s non-traditional and it’s edgy, which is really good for Northwestern,” said stage manager Rue Norman, a sophomore theatre major.
Some students may worry that since they are unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s works, they won’t be able to appreciate the show. To this, the cast answered with a resounding “no.” Emphasizing the elements of audience participation and physical humor present in the production, Johnson said, “It’s a great show if you like high-energy, high-octane, quick-witted entertainment. But it’s nice because there are definitely things for those that do know Shakespeare, and it’s exponentially funny.” “You’re guaranteed to at least laugh once,” encouraged McCarthy.
A production with a cast this small creates an atmosphere vastly different from large musicals such as “Into the Woods,” which was performed in October. McCarthy said, “We all worked together in Into the Woods, but not really ‘together,’ so it was fun doing that. I’ve never been in a show with just three people, and they’re a great two people to be with. I think it’s a very supportive environment.” Apprehensive in the beginning, he was able to find fun in the process, continuing, “I was scared at first because we’re doing an hour and a half show with lines split between three people, which means a lot of lines, but I’ve very much enjoyed it.”
Johnson reflected, “It’s been really fun to see how different we all are, because Dawson, Tommy and I all have different personalities, so we have different approaches to our comedy. It brings a lot of fun elements and weird things that help us bounce off each other, and it works really well.”
An interesting element of “Shakespeare Abridged,” as the show has been nicknamed, is that the three actors portray themselves. “There are so many different characters that you go in and out of,” said Johnson. Because of the “play within a play,” the three actors not only work on character development for the Shakespeare roles, but also for the characters of their own selves. “If you think it’s hard acting as somebody else, try acting as yourself,” commented McCarthy. “But not too much of yourself, just enough,” added Johnson. Since this is a play rather than a presentation, the actors can’t just step onto the stage and start talking. They must always be in character, even when those characters are themselves.
The actors Dawson, Michael and Tommy are all putting on a show together, in which the characters of Dawson, Michael and Tommy portray Romeo, Hamlet, and others. They’ve had to keep their characters true to their own personalities while still following the script and also becoming the Shakespearean characters whom they portray.
“These boys are literally playing themselves, so it’s cool to see in theatre how you can have your own personality in a character,” said Norman.
“The script is hilarious in its own right, but the great thing about working with Dan is that he has his own unique and brilliant sense of humor, and so do we, with all due respect,” said Ehlke. “We’ve injected a lot of our own personality and preferences and ideas into the show, resulting in something that reflects us.”
Every production presents its own challenges that grow the skills of everyone involved. “This show definitely has a lot more props than other shows that I’ve handled before,” remarked Samara Ehlke, Dawson’s sister, who helps out with props and costumes backstage. “The quick changes are insane,” said Norman. “We don’t have time to change or get props, so they kind of just throw everything on us,” explained McCarthy.
The show created an environment that allowed the cast and crew to bond as friends and grow in their theatrical skills. In loving words, Norman said, “The crew is dedicated, the cast is dedicated, the director is dedicated, the lights and sound people are dedicated. It’s a show of dedication, and that’s what makes a theatre show amazing. It really is like a small family. We’ve come together and had a lot of comradery.”
Johnson said with pride, “All I can say is that it will be a spectacle to watch, and you will not only laugh, you will be impressed by the end.”