Condensing Shakespeare into something funny
Waukesha Civic speeds up The Bard

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

Feb. 8, 2018


JJ Gatesman and Jillian Smith in “The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged)” at the Waukesha Civic Theatre.
Carroll Studios

What a hoot! Whether you’re a Shakespeare fan or not, you’ve probably been exposed to some of his famous plays during your high school English classes.

In Waukesha Civic’s creative take on The Bard, you’ll find yourself re-introduced to his genius and fully entertained by the abandon and skill of the three actors that take on this irreverent and speedy journey through 37 of his works.

Though they spend the most time on “Romeo and Juliet” and “Hamlet,” they manage to touch upon  many of the dramatic devices and recurring themes that characterize his plays. Lots of dead bodies  around, to be sure.

The three playwrights - Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield - have also written several other successful parodies, including one of the Bible (one that caused quite the dramatic protest in Delafield several years ago). All their works are strong, irreverent but affectionate satires.

The show is a mix of narration, acting and audience participation. 

As the show progresses, one can feel the growing interest and involvement of the participants on and off stage. In the 1960s we referred to such events as “happenings.”

The amount of energy and ingenuity expended by these three actors is nothing short of amazing.  Nickolas Callan Haubner, JJ Gatesman and Jillian Smith are all pros and handle themselves with aplomb in all instances. Haubner has become a ubiquitous presence in many local theaters, a very welcome one I might add; the other two, less so, but I’d certainly enjoy seeing them again.

Besides being able to master Shakespeare’s lines, all three are also adept at improvisation, which they interject at will, making references to current affairs and local topics.  Doing a rap version of “Othello” and using a football game as a metaphor for the history plays, using a crown for the football is quite ingenious, as is replicating “Titus Andronicus” as a cooking show.

One of the funniest audience participation stunts involved a Freudian analysis of Ophelia, in which we were divided into the id, the ego the superego and the unconscious.  Another clever ruse is having Haubner and Gatesman run off, stranding Smith with trying to share Shakespeare’s sonnets - all   154 of them condensed on a 3 x 5 card - to keep the audience occupied until they return.

There are so many funny moments, it is impossible to cite them all, but one contrasting surprise was JJ Gatesman’s delivery of the famous soliloquy, “What a Piece of Work Is Man,” which made us realize again that despite being the butt of many a joke, Shakespeare was a genius, and the breadth and depth of his work will never be replicated.  We also were treated to the fact that actor Gatesman, besides being a terrific comic, could be a serious Shakespearian actor.  Bravo to all three actors and their many gifts.

The costumer (Dana Brzezinski) and property designer (Keith Handy) were kept busy with all the required, rapid changes, and director Dustin J. Martin certainly met his challenging task, and I suspect had lots of fun doing so.

I’m tempted to go again because I’m sure that no two performances will be the same with this rather loose show and very versatile actors.


“The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged”

The play runs through Feb. 18 at the Waukesha Civic Theatre, 264 W. Main St., Waukesha. Call 262-547-0708 or visit