5th Wall Productions puts on 'slapstick' Shakespeare

Monday, June 8, 2009 | 5:47 p.m. CDT

If you go

Performances are at 6:30 p.m. June 11-14, at the Boone County Courthouse Amphitheater.

Go to 5th Wall Productions' Web site.

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William Shakespeare might have placed men in female garb for production of his plays, but he wouldn't have added raps and pop culture references to Miley Cyrus or used spring-loaded knives as props.

But that's not the case for 5th Wall Productions, a recent addition to Columbia's theater community, which is presenting a weekend of Shakespeare in a not-so-ordinary manner at the Boone County Courthouse Amphitheater.

“The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Abridged” is not like any certain play of the English writer, but is instead a compilation of his entire collection of 37 comedies, histories and tragedies. And it’s all performed in 90 minutes. 

It’s what director Monica Senecal calls the “Cliffs Notes of the Cliffs Notes, as edited by Monty Python, with plenty of innuendo and guys in wigs.”

With the cast running around in Converse All-Stars, wigs and at times a coconut bra, the show introduces Romeo and Othello, Juliet and Hamlet.

Audience members can enjoy the show even if they don’t know anything about Shakespeare or his plays, actor Ben Hedrick said.

Michele Curry, who plays many of the male roles in the show, said the goal of the play, and of 5th Wall Productions, is to reach potential audience members who might be intimidated by theater because of cost, length or interest.

“We’re kind of breaking that fourth wall — getting to the fifth wall — to really reach out to people who wouldn’t normally go to theater,” she said. “So by bringing it out downtown, giving you a free show, people come and they realize that ‘Hey, theater’s not that bad after all.’”

Cost isn’t an issue with this play; it’s free. The cast, crew and everyone else involved have given freely to create this family-friendly comedy.

Sometimes during a downturn economy, entertainment is the first thing cut out of a family’s budget, Senecal said, but by doing this show in a “pay-what-you-can” fashion, it won’t limit anyone’s wallet.

“We don’t want to keep them away from theater,” she said.

Senecal said the generosity and diversity of Community Theater are two of the things she likes most about finding the theater groups in each new city she moves to. All of them are willingly supporting the greater cause.

“And they don’t expect anything in return other than the pleasure of bringing theater to the masses,” Senecal said.

Although Shakespeare created many characters, this show operates with a cast of just three. Chris Bowling, Hedrick and Curry have all been involved in theater in mid-Missouri for a while, and during the past couple of months, Curry said they’ve grown quite close.

“Having a three-person cast — you really get to know each other and figure out how to work with them, and you create a team that’s just inseparable,” she said.

Bowling, Hedrick and Curry aren’t the only three putting on the show because the audience is also invited to participate in some ways throughout the performance. Senecal said it keeps things fresh because it’s impossible to determine how each audience will react and interact.

Jordan Grant, a Columbia resident who attended Friday’s performance, said it was a humorous show. “It was pretty inventive and slapstick, too,” he said.

His friend Jonathan Yenkey agreed, saying it was very much like Monty Python.

Senecal said even though some might see theater as uninteresting, this show attempts to break through those barriers.

“It’s just a fun way to kind of poke fun at something that everybody thinks is so high-brow and makes it accessible to everybody,” she said.

The final round of performances will be at 6:30 p. m. from Thursday through Sunday at the Boone County Courthouse Amphitheater.

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