BENNINGTON — Though Bennington Community Theater’s upcoming Bard-inspired production includes characters and lines from “Hamlet,” “Macbeth” and the gory “Titus Andronicus,” the show is far from a Shakespearean tragedy.
“If the performance goes poorly, it could be a tragedy, but I am expecting a comedy, and I think the theater and the three gentlemen in it are expecting a lot of laughter,” director Todd Hjelt, of Manchester, said. “If someone comes in thinking it’s a tragedy, they will be sorely mistaken.”
In “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged),” written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, three actors perform 154 sonnets and 37 plays comedically merged into an approximately 90-minute production. The show, which combines classical theater, slapstick, improv and more, will be performed at Bennington Performing Arts Center, 331 Main St., this Friday and Saturday and on Jan. 21 and Jan. 22 at 7:30 p.m., and this Sunday and Jan. 23 at 2 p.m.
Kate Whitehall, who does marketing for the arts center, called the play a fun, accessible way to see Shakespeare. Hjelt said audiences don’t even have to be familiar with the storyline of Hamlet, “but it helps most people are going to know the phrase, ‘to be or not to be.’”
“We lovingly say, ‘If you like Shakespeare, you’ll like this show. If you hate Shakespeare, you’ll love this show,’” Hjelt said.
The actors use their real names, playing themselves as they take on the many roles, male and female. Hjelt described the show as “two against one.”
“We have two guys trying to do it seriously, but one guy is definitely more of a loose cannon, and maybe knows the least and tries the hardest,” he said. And one of the gifts of the show, he noted, is that “there is no star.”
All roles will be performed by Chris Restino, D. Mark Blank and Mike Cutler. Cutler and Restino are both Mount Anthony Union High School alumni. Blank grew up in Pennsylvania and New York.
“You’re watching three guys who think they know Shakespeare, and they’re going to do all the plays in 90 minutes,” said Cutler, of Bennington. “Chris, he plays all the major women roles in Shakespeare. He loves to get the wigs on.”
A female role that Restino does not play is the nurse in “Romeo and Juliet,” played by Cutler, while Restino portrays Juliet.
“That’s fun. It’s definitely lighthearted,” Cutler said. “There are a lot of comedic elements to even the really serious plays.”
For example, “Titus Andronicus” is performed as a cooking show, and in “Hamlet,” Ophelia drowns backward.
“There is so much going on with this show. It is chaotic,” Hjelt said. “There is a madness to it, but that is part of the charm, too.”
Cutler described his own character as a sort of “stage manager,” trying to keep the other two grounded through the show. Some scenes involve audience participation.
“It’s really fun to explore these characters. I think what sets it apart is we are fully addressing the audience from the beginning,” he said.
He encourages attendance by anyone looking to forget the stress of the pandemic for a while.
“If people want to just come and sit back and relax for 90 minutes and forget all that and laugh and have fun, that’s what we really want to help people with,” he said.
Tickets and information can be found online at bpacvt.org/tickets or by calling 802-447-0564. Proof of vaccination against COVID is required, and masks must be worn while in the building.