Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 23, 2024

This past Friday and Saturday, William Shakespeare’s greatest works leapt, frolicked and cajoled throughout Arellano Theater as a troupe of six actors promised to squash all thirty-seven of the Bard’s plays into one two-hour long performance.

And squash they did, as they swapped costumes and churned through comedies, tragedies, and histories faster than you can say Titus Andronicus. All of this merriment came as a part of the Barnstormers’ intersession production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), directed by sophomore Daniel Weissglass.

If you are looking for a scholarly critique of the Bard’s work, The Complete Works... may not be for you. But for those who grew weary of Shakespeare in their high school English class, this fun and light play comes as a breath of fresh air, reinvigorating dusty and sometimes exhausting plots with humor and a dizzying array of whimsical reinterpretations of Shakespeare’s writing.

The play opens with sophomore Ryan Blake and junior Lien Le attempting to decide whether or not the audience has a wider breadth of knowledge about William Shakespeare than they do.

It becomes clear immediately that these characters are no aficionados on the Bard, but are instead charming clowns, looking to affectionately mock the most well-respected writer of all time.

Soon, the other four members of the acting troupe are brought onstage and the play spins off into a wild ride full of cross-dressing and spit takes, all in the effort to touch on each and every one of Shakespeare’s plays.

It is never quite explained why these six people have decided to take on this enormous task, but the audience is not about to complain, not when Othello is transformed into a rap, the histories are conveyed through a football game, and Titus Andronicus becomes a cannibalistic cooking show.

Freshman Matt Moores, sophomore Morris Kraicer and sophomore Grace Mumby stood out as supporting actors, each playing a wide array of characters and providing gentle moments of relief from the frantic energy of the play.

Moores’s spot-on comedic timing and quiet demeanor won him laughs as he swung swords in Romeo and Juliet and later played the ditzy daughter in Titus Andronicus. Mumby elegantly juggled absurdly fast character shifts and physical comedy stunts. Meanwhile, Kraicer committed wholeheartedly to the absurdity of Queen Gertrude in Hamlet and bounced around the stage like the Eveready Bunny in Converse sneakers.

Each actor did an impressive job of breaking the “fourth wall” and incorporating the audience into the world of the play.

Unlike most theatrical productions, The Complete Works... made use of audience participation, asking various showgoers to do everything from scream onstage to discuss the quality of their intermission experiences.

Ryan Blake and Taylor Barfield controlled most of these interactions, expertly tossing in ad libbed taunts and lines of encouragement.

Director Daniel Weissglass managed to coordinate this risky use of improvisation, keeping these moments amusing without becoming self-indulgent for the company.

A highlight of the show came when the Director of Homewood Arts, Eric Beatty was called to the stage. His portrayal of Ophelia’s unconscious was both nuanced and edgy. His dashes across the stage demanded that the audience look inwards at themselves and ask the question, “What does it mean to be human”? He was an excellent sport.

While the Barnstormers’ production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) succeeded in providing its audiences with a delightful and fun evening of theatre, it is perhaps more notable for selling out Arellano both nights.

Many students involved with theatre at Johns Hopkins are quick to complain that arts groups are not supported enough by the JHU community — and with good reason.

Many productions struggle to fill even a quarter of their theater each night, and they find that many students have never even heard of their theatrical organizations.

And yet, this particular production managed to do the impossible and fill every seat in Arellano. They even had to turn away eager patrons for lack of space. Perhaps the Barnstormers did an especially good job advertising, or perhaps the Hopkins community was just looking for an opportunity to laugh at something academic.

Whatever the reason may be, hats off to you, Barnstormers and to you, Mr. Shakespeare.

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