Julie Ann Neville, left, Cheryl Willis and Lila Dupree take on all of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets at Acadia Rep. PHOTO COURTESY OF ACADIA REPERTORY THEATRE

Bard butchered beautifully by Acadia Repertory crew

MOUNT DESERT — “The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Abridged” is both a mental and physical challenge for the three actors for whom it is written. After all, it does manage to “cover” in some way or other all of the playwrights 37 plays and 154 sonnets in 97 minutes.

No less challenging is the “revised” version, written to celebrate the original plays 20th anniversary in 2007 and now playing at Acadia Repertory Theatre in Somesville. This newer, updated revision of the zany send up of the Bard’s works incorporates some of the funniest improvisational moments that have occurred during it’s long run in London and throughout the world and includes the delightfully transformed tragedy of Othello into a hip hop rap number.

Because improvisation continues to be an important element of every performance of this play, even if one has seen this play many, many times, it is always a little different and always a lot of fun.

In a recent performance, for instance, there were a number of references to current events, including an unscripted wry reference to the Brexit controversy.

Three male actors or a combo of men and woman most often performs the “Complete Works.” But in this production, three of Acadia Rep’s veteran women actors, the marvelous Cheryl Willis, Julie Ann Neville and Lila Dupree, have picked up the banner and run with it, sometimes literally out of the building.

Now it is true that for some reason it is funnier seeing men play woman than vice-versa. A hairy, six-foot plus Ophelia always gets more laughs than a dainty Othello. But this trio puts its own special stamp on the Shakespearian shenanigans and manages for an hour and a half to keep up the required breakneck pacing and physical marathon.

We’re talking 10-second costume and character changes, pratfalls, sword fights, death throes, puppetry, a brief football game, interspersed with the very occasional pure poetry of a properly delivered soliloquy. After butchering Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” monologue, for example, Neville gives us a lovely, thoughtful rendition of “What a piece of work is man …” surprising the audience and, seemingly, herself.

Willis, who has played other roles, including sophisticated Noel Coward ladies and desperate middle class housewives, once again demonstrates her range by channeling her inner Jeff Daniels in “Dumb and Dumber,” to portray the most clueless member of the trio – the actor who at one point hilariously finds herself alone on the stage with an expectant audience to entertain.

Dupree, who initially emerges out of that audience, carves her own comedic niche amidst these two seasoned actors and manages to be rather fetching even when she barfs her brains out; her character’s limited interpretation of being poisoned, stabbed, drowned or merely upset.

Anyway, it is all great fun, and the audience even gets invited to participate in the action.

The “Complete Works” runs through Aug. 14.

Also running is the 30th annual Acadia Rep children’s program production of “The Princess and the Pauper,” adapted very loosely by Willis from the classic Mark Twain novel. In this modern update of the story, the Princess is a famous pop star and the “Pauper” is lobsterman’s kid from Tremont with big dreams. The show features local actors Mary Paola and Molly Brown and brings oodles of energy, music and a celebration of Acadia National Park’s 100th birthday thrown into the mix. The children’s theater program is performed every Wednesday and Saturday at 10:30 a.m. through Aug. 27. Call the box office at 244-7260 or visit www.acadiarep.com.

Nan Lincoln

Nan Lincoln

The former arts editor at the Bar Harbor Times writes reviews and feature stories for The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander.

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