Long Lost First Play worth discovering

By Rachelle Hughes
Iron County Today

Three actors who play 47 characters and a little bit of all of Shakespeare’s plays, as well as some other famous literary stories equal a ridiculous, silly, surprising and clever production of the regional premiere of William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged) at the Utah Shakespeare Festival this season.

Here is the premise of this play brought to the stage by the Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, the creators of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Three young actors/directors/producers discover an ancient manuscript of William Shakespeare in a hole in a parking lot in Leicester, England next to a pile of bones. Turns out it is the first play of Shakespeare and it contains all of Shakespeare’s canon and characters paired up in most unexpected ways in a 100 hour long play that these three theater friends abridge to 90 minutes of madcap Shakespeare parody where the three friends play all of the roles.

Two of the Shakespeare’s most mischievous fairies, Puck and Ariel are waging a war against each other as they manipulate and toy with the emotions and the plot lines of some of Shakespeare’s most famous characters. I refuse to give away too many spoilers. That would ruin the sheer comedic surprises of the show. I will say this. Wait till you meet Puck’s sworn enemy the fairy Ariel, an indecisive Hamlet and Dromio and Juliet  and Cleopatra. They are going to make you double over in laughter.

Marco Antonia Vega, Riley Shanahan and Luke Striffler are manic, hilarious and genius as they change lightening fast from role to role. Honestly, costume changes and character changes are so quick and so thorough it is theatre magic. Props go to Alex Jaeger, costume designer and Scenic Designer, Jo Winiarski for creating costumes and scenery that seamlessly move the actors from character to character.

Vega and Shanahan have already proven they make a great comedic team as the two lovers of Hermia and Helena in this year’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream but they reach new heights in Long Lost First Play. Throw in the exuberance of Festival newcomer Luke Striffler and it is a trio of hilarity. How they keep the nonstop flow of roles, clever quips and distinctly different personalities of all the characters is dizzyingly brilliant. Bravo, Director Christopher Edwards for choreographing all the moving parts of this production.

A little familiarity with Shakespeare’s canon (and Disney) definitely helps audience members appreciate the inside jokes of the play which come at you as fast as a machine gun. I have to admit I did not get some of the jokes in the rapid fire, but there are so many that there is an inside joke for everyone. Even those unfamiliar with Shakespeare will find moments to laugh. There will be moments to be shocked and surprised as well. This play is all about implementing all the comedic tools of the trade and that includes shock factor, irreverence and surprise.

Set in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s Eileen and Allen Anes Studio Theatre, audience members experience this play at a more intimate level. The actors are able to interact with audience members and pull them into the play itself at times. This theatre is the perfect setting for the makeshift “cardboard ‘O’ of this play and a close up look at the crazy antics. But a word of warning and a small spoiler — you may get wet. After all there are some tempests and shipwrecks in Shakespeare’s tales. 

On a side note, I will reiterate the Festival’s content advisory from bard.org. This play “contains some sexual and scatological humor. It may not be suitable for preteens.”

William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play will play in the Anes Studio Theatre through Oct. 21. For more information, visit bard.org.

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