A Beautiful Night For The Complete Works of William Shakespeare!

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Several weeks ago, when my family and I were on the campus of the College of St. Elizabeth for the district art show, we meandered through the campus to the beautiful outdoor amphitheater for The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. The set, though only half-way built at that time, was eye-catching and whimsical, with stacks of giant books with the titles of several of Shakespeare’s works on the spines. We immediately looked up the title of this year’s outdoor show, hoping to plan another date night, like we had done a few years ago, and discovered that this year’s outdoor production was The Complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged) [revised].

About The Complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged) [revised]:

37 plays in 97 minutes!  Back by popular demand, three wild and crazy actors will take you on an irreverent, madcap romp through Shakespeare’s entire canon. Featuring some new surprises since our last production in 2008, this is a terrific show to introduce Shakespeare to young people, and a hilarious spoof that appeals to audiences of all ages — from Bardophiles to Bardophobes!  As always, picnicking under the stars with family and friends makes for a delightful evening where art, nature, and the ancient tradition of outdoor theatre all come together!

My husband and I were familiar with the play, as we had seen an off-off- off-Broadway version in NYC about 14 years ago (i.e. pre-kids). Knowing it was a spoof, and full of jokes and slapstick comedy, we figured it might be an entertaining way to introduce the kids (ages 10 and almost-8) to Shakespeare, beyond their familiarity with the movie Gnomeo and Juliette. So, the next week, we ordered tickets for the first Saturday night the play was open. I had a couple questions for the box office (like what size chairs we could bring, more on that later), so, rather than order online, I just called (which, the person at the box office said, is probably better since they occasionally have problems with the online ticketing). I had expected to pay $35 a ticket, but then learned two welcome bits of information – if you have a Bank of America card (which we did!), adult tickets are $25; and, because of an award from the National Endowment for the Arts and a matched donation from Bank of America, all children ages 18 and under to attend FREE!

Next, we broke the news to the kids, who moaned and groaned, and put up a fuss about being dragged to a Shakespeare play. So, we did what we had to do – bribe them with a sushi picnic beforehand. (Wow – Shakespeare play and sushi picnic?!? Now that I type this, it really makes me sound like we are a posh, high-class family! Trust me, we are your typical family, just sometimes we do crazy things!) You are not meant to take food into the amphitheater (though wine glasses were flowing at several groups around us), but you are definitely welcome (and encouraged!) to picnic on the grass above the amphitheater before the show. We got there a bit after 7 (doors open at 7:30; show starts at 8), but I’d suggest getting there earlier to have a leisurely picnic since families start to line up about 7:15 to enter. It is “festival” seating, so you sit wherever there is space. In the amphitheater, we set up our beach chairs on one of the tiers. You can bring blankets and chairs, but the chairs need to be low (not the tall canvas camping chairs) so you don’t block anyone’s view.

Right from the first scene, we were all captivated and in hysterics! I won’t give away any plot details, but let’s just say, when you have only three men performing all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays in 97 minutes, you are in for some fun antics! The play had definitely been revised since the last time we saw it in 2002 (thus the [revised] part of the play’s title) with several well-placed references to smartphones and current events. Though all three performers were obviously talented Shakespearean actors who have been with the company for multiple seasons, the kids’ favorite was the one who played most of the female roles – Juliette, Cleopatra, several nurses – and the cooking show host (with a resemblance to Guy Fieri) in the revolting spoof on the bloody play, Titus Andronicus. As expected with any Shakespeare play, The Complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged) [revised] was filled with sexual innuendo, but, fortunately, our kids did not pick up on most of them (at least, I hope they didn’t!). It was also packed with references to certain male body parts and bodily noises, which is especially what led to my son’s comment as we were leaving the show just before 10pm: “That was the best play I’ve ever seen!” NOTE: I was not compensated for nor asked to write my opinions about the play by The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey.

The Complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged) [revised] is a production of The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. It is playing on the Outdoor Stage at The College of St. Elizabeth from June 22-July 31, Tuesday through Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 4:30pm and 8pm. Doors open at 7:30. Picnicking is allowed and encouraged before the show on the lawn. Tickets are $35 for adults, $25 for Bank of America card holders (use code “BOFA” at online checkout); free for kids 18 and younger.

For more information about The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey and for tickets sales, visit their website or call 973-408-5600.