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Depending on which volume you buy, the "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare" measures in excess of 1,200 pages and weighs 5 pounds.

Give the authors of "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)" credit, then, for the brevity of their wit: Their play is 80 pages, and a print copy is feather-weight at 4 ounces.

​Over the course of their 100-minute play, they've wedged in humorous material from every​ Shakespeare play plus the sonnets.

"We take all of the tragedies and make them into comedies," said Rosie Ayers, the director of Missoula Community Theatre's production, which opens next week. And all of the comedies get condensed into one tragedy. And there are only four actors on stage to re-create the antic, Monty Python-esque humor. 

"The actors will be eating two dinners every night," Ayers said.

The cast includes Salina Chatlain, a veteran of the Montana Repertory Theatre, and Mike Verdon, whom Ayers saw perform in the show before.

"His character impersonations and highbrow wit is an experience you won't get to have very often in the theater," Ayers said.

Kevin Harrington, another MCT veteran, will take the stage, as well as Bridget Smith as the "rollerskating prop wench," a character who comments on the thankless job of backstage theater work.

"She's brilliant at physical comedy. She barely needs to twitch a finger. She's the unspoken backbone of this piece," she said.

The script calls for a lot of improvisation and audience interaction, which the cast has to generate on the fly and helps make each performance different.

"The intelligence behind this cast brings out the comedy that you cannot have without knowledge of history and theater and current political events, pop culture – they all have strong points and where they intersect, that is where the brilliance comes out," Ayers said.


The play was created in 1987, a collaboration between Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield of the Reduced Shakespeare Company. After its debut at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the play had a record nine-year run in London.

It's been performed in western Montana periodically, but not in Missoula proper since a University of Montana production in 2002.

Coincidentally, Singer's mother lives in Hamilton and he'll be attending the opening night of MCT's two-week run.

Ayers says the play's spontaneous nature has helped contribute to its longevity.

"I think it is the unpredictability of getting to not be a passive member, but an active audience member as well as the deep love that we have for Shakespeare," Ayers said.

Then there's the humor, which she hopes that people carry the humor into their everyday lives, whether it's "your stagnant workplace," "awkward interactions" in your relationship or something simple like making dinner.

She hopes audience members "regurgitate comedy all over our average daily lives and make it less average."

MCT technical director Theresa K. Jenson proposed making the show "zero waste," using all recycled or donated materials.

Ayers said they've taken pieces of sets from the last year and a half and "Frankensteined them" into something new. Hellgate High School donated football pads. (There's a football scene, by the way.)

Ayers said she "stole my own children's light sabers to make the fight scenes more authentic."

Even smaller things, such as encouraging the audience to return their playbills so they can be reused for the next night.

Home ReSource, the building materials recycler, helped construct tables for the "Bard's Bar," a row of VIP tables next to the stage. "It's where Shakespeare would put his Groundlings," she said.

The seats come with a complimentary drink, dessert and the high likelihood of more audience interaction.

After the show, even the "upcycled" tables are up for sale.

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