“William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged)” has every character from every play—even the Bard himself

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William Shakespeare's Long Lost First Play. Pictured are Ryan Woods, Jonathan Finnegan and Connor Carew
William Shakespeare's Long Lost First Play. Pictured are Ryan Woods, Jonathan Finnegan and Connor Carew. Photo by Jerry Dalia.

Shakespeare Theatre of NJ presents a silly and fun merry romp

It’s more summertime fun from the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey! Their one outdoor play of the season is William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged), and everything you need to know going into this spectacle is there in the title. Everything, that is, except that it is great silly fun for a midsummer’s night! The show is written by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, creators of 2016’s outdoor offering The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) (revised), and like that play it’s a merry romp.

William Shakespeare's Long Lost First Play (abridged). Pictured are Jonathan Finnegan and Connor Carew
William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged). Pictured are Jonathan Finnegan and Connor Carew. Photo by Jerry Dalia.

The “recently-discovered manuscript”, written when William was just a callow youth, in its full form would run for some 100 hours and require a cast of thousands. Young Will’s first play contains every character he would ever use in his complete canon of plays, all interacting with each other. It has been ruthlessly abridged to fit a two-hour running time (plus an intermission), else the opening night audience would still be sitting in the Greek Theatre on the campus of St. Elizabeth’s College in Convent Station. As is usual in Shakespeare, there are pairs of mismatched lovers: Juliet in pursuit of Dromio from The Comedy of Errors and Richard III being seduced by Cleopatra. Even Hamlet gets a girlfriend—Lady Macbeth! A magical feud between A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s Puck and The Tempest’s Ariel involves the Three Weird Sisters from Macbeth and the villainous Malvoliago (figure it out). The Bard of Avon has written himself in as a character in his own play, a reminder that he was also an actor on the Elizabethan stage. There’s even a touchingly-played death scene and more audience participation than I’ve seen before in a Shakespeare Theatre production.

William Shakespeare's Long Lost First Play (abridged). Pictured is Ryan Woods as Ariel
William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged). Pictured is Ryan Woods as Ariel. Photo by Jerry Dahlia.

The humor is pitched to that precocious 13-year-old living within every theatregoer, with puns and slapstick, cross-dressing and anachronistic dialogue galore. The acting chores fall to a trio of energetic, nimble performers, all Shakespeare Theatre veterans: Connor Carew, Jonathan Finnegan, and Ryan Woods. Brian B. Crowe, who directed Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus last season, here shows a deft touch in handling Shakespearean-style low comedy. The Shakespeare Theatre’s production team achieves their usual high standards: scenic designer Brian Ruggaber, lighting designer Jason Flamos, sound designer Kari B. Berntson, and costume designer Paul Canada.

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This is not highbrow romantic comedy as you’d see in As You Like It or Twelfth Night. It’s more the low humor of The Comedy of Errors or Two Gentlemen of Verona. But it is light and fun, just right for a summer’s evening in the open air. As always, audiences are encouraged to arrive early and enjoy a picnic on the spacious grounds in front of the theatre. You won’t be sorry if you head to Convent Station to check out William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged)!

William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged) is presented by the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey at the Greek Theatre on the campus of St. Elizabeth’s College in Convent Station through August 4, 2019. For tickets and information, visit shakespearenj.org. NOTE: Tickets are free to patrons 18 years of age and younger!