Weekender

Nittany Theatre at the Barn puts comedic spin on Shakespeare’s works

From left: Jacob Tarconish, Jonathan O’Harrow and Erik Johnson star in Nittany Theatre at the Barn’s “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.”
From left: Jacob Tarconish, Jonathan O’Harrow and Erik Johnson star in Nittany Theatre at the Barn’s “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.” Photo provided

As the summer season begins to wind down, Nittany Theatre at the Barn will bring classical theater and farcical comedy to Boalsburg with“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).”

“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare” is a high-energy, fast-paced romp through all 37 Shakespeare plays in a 97-minute, two-act comedy. The play features three actors who portray all the characters with the help of some costumes, props and wigs.

“This is definitely not your high school English teacher’s rendition of Shakespeare,” Director Emmy Frank said.

“Complete Works” is the first production of Shakespeare’s work for Nittany Theatre, and Frank said it’s a great way to introduce audiences to the medium in the Barn’s unique venue.

“We hope that this production may whet our patrons’ appetites for some classical theater in the future,” Frank said. ‘The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged)’ is also just an utterly hilarious farce that we know our audiences will adore.”

In the roles of Adam, Daniel and Jess are Erik Raymond Johnson, Jonathan O’Harrow and Jacob Tarconish, respectively.

The original authors of “Complete Works” — Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield — wrote a show where three best friends (who coincidentally share their names) “throw together” a 90-minute show encompassing all of Shakespeare’s work.

“At a basic level, the names of the characters just serve as a map — letting us know which Shakespearean roles we’re playing throughout the night,” O’Harrow said. “On another level, the characters reflect the personalities of the authors — how they feel about the plays of Shakespeare and how they handle the absurdities of the other actors in the show.”

With a very small cast, the three young actors became close very quickly. O’Harrow didn’t know Johnson or Tarconish before rehearsals started, but said that within a day or two they were joking, having a great time together and experimenting with different jokes and ways of playing a scene.

“We developed a trust early on, and that’s essential in a show like this,” O’Harrow said. “Equally important is a director who gives us the freedom to be funny while still maintaining control. And that’s Emmy to a T. She’s truly amazing.”

When directing farce, according to Frank, one has to be an expert on the subject they’re poking fun at — so, she had to become an expert on Shakespeare.

“Thankfully I just graduated with my MFA in directing from Penn State, where we studied Shakespeare and Elizabethan theater in great detail,” she said. “But I definitely had to conduct a lot of research on the plays that this show particularly focuses on, such as ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ ‘Titus Andronicus,’ ‘Othello,’ ‘Macbeth’ and ‘Hamlet.’ ”

Shakespeare is such a universally known name that even people who have never read or seen any of his work have almost definitely heard of the bard at some point in their lives.

“This play is as much for them as it is for the actual Shakespearean scholars of the world,” Tarconish said. “It creates its humor from people’s perceptions of Shakespeare as much as it does from his actual works themselves, so it truly is a show where everyone can find something to enjoy.”

O’Harrow said that the comedic elements create the show’s charm.

“This show is all about being entertaining and fun,” he said. “And I guess that’s the message too — to not take things too seriously and to give ourselves the freedom to just have a good time.

“I think audiences will be surprised by this show,” he continued. “People are intimidated by Shakespeare, but they shouldn’t be. His work can be accessible and playful and fun.”

More than anything else, Frank hopes the audience will walk away with sore cheeks from having smiled so much throughout the production — experiencing Shakespeare unlike they have ever witnessed before.

“If we do our jobs correctly as artists, our patrons should laugh so hard that they weep,” she said. “If they love Shakespeare’s work already, they’ll have a great time laughing at this comedic interpretation of his work. If they hate Shakespeare, they’ll love this irreverent roast of his plays.”

IF YOU GO

  • What: Nittany Theatre at the Barn’s “Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)”
  • When: Aug. 30-Sept. 10
  • Where: Nittany Theatre at the Barn, 300 Old Boalsburg Road, Boalsburg
  • Info: www.nittanytheatre .org
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