“Can we do the vomit?” Susane Lee asked George K. Wells during a recent rehearsal of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).”
In the production from Hudson Warehouse, an Upper West Side theater company that stages classical theater productions in Riverside Park, Shakespeare’s 37 plays comically unfold with three actors, 60 roles and 45 costume changes, without intermission. Wells plays Ophelia, and in one scene goofily mimes retching into the audience.
“I call it a tour de force,” said Lee. “It’s not just acting. It’s so physical. They’re fighting; they’re wrestling; they’re running up and down the auditorium.”
The company first staged the comedy outdoors in 2013 as part of its 10-year anniversary season, and then brought the production to Goddard Riverside Community Center when it became the organization’s resident theater company. Written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, the play debuted in 1987 and followed with a nine-year run in London.
An often slapstick retelling of all Shakespeare’s theatrical works, the show is a change of pace for the classically-trained actors. Wells, who performed as Romeo in a previous production of the tragedy, now plays Juliet, along with all the other female roles in the production, sometimes donning dramatic wigs and period dresses.
“It’s mayhem,” said Nicholas Martin-Smith, the founder and producing artistic director of the company and one of the three actors in the production.
During rehearsal, Lee and costumer Emily Rose Parman worked through the actors’ costume changes. They discovered that Christopher Moore needed assistance changing out of a long white beard and into a brown cloak as he transitioned from Polonius to his son Laertes in a matter of seconds.
“Pieces have to be suggestive, rather than elaborate,” said Parman, given the time constraints.
Lee updated the script, taking liberties and adding fights where none existed, with the help of the company’s fight director. A golf club duel breaks out in “Macbeth” and a wrestling match, complete with clotheslines and headlocks, goes down between the Capulets and the Montagues. Some of Shakespeare’s original language remains, but the production is accessible, Lee said, and allows the actors to improvise.
“We love Shakespeare,” Lee said. “We make it understandable and accessible and say it in a vernacular that everyone can understand. It’s not highfalutin.”