It's great news for fans of the Bard: A copy of William Shakespeare's very first play, written when he was just 17, recently was discovered buried in a parking lot in Leicaster, next to some bones that didn't look that important.
There's a catch, though: The young Shakespeare, bursting with creative genius but little-acquainted with stagecraft, filled this first effort with all 1,639 characters, every speech and every plot that he would later parcel out among his other works. So the Bard's very first play would require some 100 hours to stage. That's part of the reason why he buried it.
Enter Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, old hands at condensing material. This is the company that brought us "All the Great Books" and "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)" and even "The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged)." These are fast-paced shows that combine physical comedy with highbrow humor; knowing the source material isn't necessary to enjoy the goofy antics, but it helps.
"William Shakespeare's Long-Lost First Play (abridged)," which premiered in 2016, is this month's production at the Majestic Reader's Theatre, with performances scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. (See the information box for details.)
Rachel Kohler, the director of the Majestic production, knows her Shakespeare, but that's not the main reason why she agreed to take on the show after the original director had to drop out.
"It was a fun play," she said. "It's really just goofy for the sake of being goofy. There's a place for that."
But she added: "In retrospect, I probably overextended myself by accepting it."
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When casting, Kohler said she was looking for high-energy performers who could stay in high gear for the entire show, but needed a couple of other qualities as well: First, she needed performers who were comfortable with the verse used in the show. "I look for people who have a lot of ability with verse," she said. "I have to have people who know how to use it."
And, considering how much the characters interact, she also was looking for chemistry among the cast members.
Kohler said she's been thrilled with how rehearsals have gone: Three woman (Brandi Douglas, Nancy Homan and Christina White) have the speaking parts, but the cast includes two other nonspeaking roles for players (Maxine Agather and Arlee Olson) who handle all the costume changes and sound effects: "Any time magic needs to happen," Kohler joked.
And by "costumes," Kohler means mostly hats: The play is deliberately structured to be a relatively bare-bones production, but something is needed for audience members to keep track of the various characters. Hats turn out to be handy for that task.
"It's all very silly and low-fi," she said.
And that means "Long-Lost Play" is well-suited for a Reader's Theatre production at the Majestic, but Kohler has a warning for audience members who elect to sit close to the action: Patrons in the first few rows can expect "a good to excellent chance that they'll find themselves being part of the show."