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All the play's a spoof.

Byline: Fred Crafts The Register-Guard

Problem: How to schmush all of William Shakespeare's plays into a single two-hour production?

Solution: "Maybe we could just do a straightforward, scholarly approach," says actor Todd William Denning in the Willamette Repertory Theatre's ``The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).''

Reaction: "Nah, screw that," says Quinn Michael (William) Mattfeld, who, like the show's other two actors, has honored the Bard by taking his first name. "I'll get the props."

Action: Mattfeld runs off stage, and Denning gives the audience the plot of "Troilus and Cressida," all the while being upstaged by William Mark Hulings, flouncing through a kitschy performance-art interpretation.

Suddenly, Mattfeld is back, making screeching noises and brandishing a prop - a supersized green Godzilla figurine.

What Godzilla has to do with Shakespeare is anybody's guess, but that's the kind of nonsense this trio is up to.

Repeatedly, Mattfeld insists he "will not do dry, boring, vomitless Shakespeare" - a manifesto that pretty much sums up this frothy, sassy, irreverent gaiety in which Shakespeare gets no respect but the audience gets a lot of laughs.

After thoroughly enjoying the madcap trio's antics, director Kirk Boyd confides, "This is my idea of heaven - being in a rehearsal hall for five hours a day with three friends who are creative and imaginative, a good piece of comedy and just letting it rip."

Boyd and his charges are revving up for Friday, when the monarchs that rule Shakespeare's history plays will be introduced like athletes in a football game and the plot of "Titus Andronicus" (bad guys get baked in a pie and served to their mother) will be revealed through - what else? - a TV cooking show.

Yes, it's that kind of production. Think Monty Python meets the Marx Brothers meets the Three Stooges.

Fun? You bet. Shakespeare? Ha!

"This is just a physical, slapstick comedy," explains director Boyd, who spent 17 years as an official of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. "One of the great joys of this play is that you don't have to know Shakespeare."

Which should be welcome news to people who don't like Shakespeare but who might like to laugh at him.

"We're not so much poking fun at Shakespeare as using him as a vehicle to perform some really great comedy," Boyd says.

In other words, Shakespeare is the inspiration, the juice and the punching bag.

Take Portland designer Curt Enderle's set, for example.

Among his visual puns are a cutout of Shakespeare with an arrow through his head (a la Steve Martin) and depiction of the Bard grinning like Mad Magazine's icon, Alfred E. Newman.

Likewise, Denning, Hulings and Mattfeld spoof just about everything that can possibly be spoofed about the Bard - and everything else as well.

The three young comedians have made Shakespeare their specialty.

Denning, a regular with the Utah Shakespeare Festival, was seen in last spring's Willamette Rep production of ``A Midsummer Night's Dream.''

Hulings is a Eugene actor who starred in Willamette Rep's "Blithe Spirit" and the Oregon Festival of American Music's "Crazy for You." He has performed with the Acting Company in New York City and the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis.

Mattfeld, a regular at University Theatre while a University of Oregon student, was Lysander in Willamette Rep's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and Romeo in the Lord Leebrick Theatre Company's "The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet."

The actors will play a variety of Shakespearean roles, of course, but they will also play themselves and, to further complicate things, they will play the show's creators, Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield.

"Are we actors doing this? Are we the actors playing the characters doing this? Are we ourselves playing the actors playing the characters? We have so many layers to deal with," says Mattfeld, who at 23 is the youngest actor (the others are 36).

Denning, whose longish hair and goatee give him a fair resemblance to Shakespeare, plays a puffed-up character who considers himself a Shakespearean expert.

"My character takes great pride in the intellectual knowledge that he's bringing to the table in the play," Denning explains.

"Quinn is not as intellectual as the character that I'm playing, so there are some conflicts that arise from that. Bill is like the liaison."

All participants in this laughfest emphasize how much they have enjoyed running amok. Hulings estimates the rehearsals have been "about 50 percent work and 50 percent just cracking up."

Mattfeld, who graduated from the University of Oregon last spring and soon will be beginning graduate studies at Penn State, finds it all a comforting release.

"It gives you an opportunity to joke around with material you had to take so seriously for so long," he says.

Although Hulings has acted in many comedies, this one is very different; large sections are improvised.

"It's the difference between playing jazz and playing classical music," Hulings says.

"The classical musician is going to honor the notes that Mozart put down and will play all of those notes. In this, we've got the chord structures that these three men gave us. We're coming up with our own comic gags. It's going to be jazz."

Yet, for all their jabs at Shakespeare and contemporary political and social situations, Denning finds a serious side to the show.

"We are letting people know there is this tremendous body of work (by Shakespeare) that's out there and reminding them how little we have exposed ourselves to it. And we are allowing people to not be afraid of it but to enjoy it. You can't take everything too seriously."

Fred Crafts can be reached at 338-2575 or fcrafts@guardnet .com.

THEATER PREVIEW

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

What: The Bard's life work condensed and spoofed in two hours of comedy, directed for the Willamette Repertory Theatre by Kirk Boyd

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 23-24 and 30-31; 7:30 p.m. May 22 and May 29; 2 p.m. May 25 and June 1 (previews 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; pre-show talks 6:45 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; post-performance talkback 2 p.m. May 25)

Where: The Hult Center for the Performing Arts' Soreng Theatre, Seventh Avenue and Willamette Street

How much: $15-$35 (previews $12-$20), at the Hult Center box office (682-5000)

CAPTION(S):

William Hulings (left), Quinn Mattfeld and Todd Denning work with a few props in Willamette Rep's comedy ``The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).'' Spoof: With Shakespeare along for a wild ride, comedy trio runs amok Continued from Page G3 The Associated Press Bold typeand this is light text and this is more light text Wayne Eastburn / The Register-Guard Willamete Rep has some fun with the stabbing of Caesar. Think: Larry, Mo and Curly meet Shakespeare; all in good fun, Willamette Rep roasts the Bard Please turn to SPOOF, Page G5 Think: Larry, Mo and Curly meet Shakespeare; all in good fun, Willamette Rep roasts the Bard
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Title Annotation:Entertainment
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 11, 2003
Words:1158
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