Thursday September 21st 2017

“The Complete Deaths” reviewed by Carol Moore

deaths_playsandevents_310x233Highly Recommended **** Who’d a thought that death could be so funny?  Spymonkey, Britain’s leading physical comedy company, that’s who!  “The Complete Deaths” is their silly, clever, slapstick, vulgar yet hysterically funny mash-up of all 74 onstage deaths in the plays of William Shakespeare.  My friend Crista and I started laughing in about scene 1.5, and never stopped!  4 BIG Spotlights.

The Spymonkey cast includes Aitor Basauri, Joint Artistic Director/Performer; Stephan Kreiss, Associate Artist/Performer; Petra Massey, Joint Artistic Director/Performer; and Toby Park, Managing Artistic Director/Composer/Performer.  Their performance felt a bit like watching a British music hall performance or a raunchy episode of Monty Python, with a bit of the Three Stooges thrown in.

A large screen has been added to the cozy Upstairs Theatre space at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre for “The Complete Deaths”.  While the audience was getting situated, a picture of a moving fly, in extremely close-up, was projected on that screen.  Performer Petra Massey was walking around holding the camera close to a fly dangling from a string on a stick she was wiggling.  At one point, she dangled the fly on the face of another performer laying on the floor.  A big yuck, she even put the fly in his mouth!

That fly is actually the black, ill-favored fly in Titus Andronicus, is a recurring theme throughout the performance frequently appearing in key scenes.  Spoiler alert – at the end of the performance, a tiny wreath, labeled “black, ill-favored fly”, draped with black ribbon, drops down in front of the performers!

Toby Park called the audience the well-fed bourgeoisie.  He made fun of us and our smug superiority calling us so-completedeaths-sausagemachinecalled lovers of Shakespeare, coming to Chicago Shakespeare on a Thursday.  He was interrupted in his rant by the rest of the company.  Although Petra Massey and Stephan Kreiss came out wearing coveralls, Aitor Basauri was wearing a doublet with ruff, knee britches, hose and an oversized codpiece.

By the way, Aitor frequently has conversations with Shakespeare’s talking head (video by Sam Bailey).  Shakespeare agrees that he isn’t fat, and gives him acting tips which Aitor incorporates into his death scene from “Romeo and Juliet” with hilarious results.  At one point, Aitur makes up his own titles, like “As You Want It” and “Much Ado about Something”,

Although his companions are not enthusiastic, Toby convinces them that they should re-enact the 75 on-stage deaths in Shakespeare’s plays.  Petra is adamant about doing Ophelia’s death, Toby is equally adamant that it was an off-stage death which are not included.

At one side of the stage, there’s a woman sitting below an electronic count-down meter, just like the one you often see at the take-a-number counter in the grocery store.  Whenever there’s a death on stage, she sounds an obnoxious buzzer and changes the number.

Using sticks, swords, axes, daggers, guns and a sausage machine, they poke, bash, shoot and grind each other up.

Some of my favorite deaths:

  1. the three men dressed as asps in skin-tight snakeskin while Petra, as Cleopatra, wore gold lame;completedeaths-bloodunderwear
  2. Stephan and Aitor, wearing white wife-beaters and tighty-whities, politely daubed each other with red paint signifying a murder, with an escalating level of smear;
  3. Wearing white chefs’ hats and blue coveralls, the four cast members stuffed each other into the sausage machine
  4. Shirtless and wearing cream-colored kilts – Petra’s skin-colored tank was covered with hair and she had a funky beard – they acted out the Scottish play (Macbeth)

“The Complete Deaths” is NOT suitable for children. It is recommended for ages 16 and up due to adult content including nudity and profanity.

Spymonkey’s “The Complete Deaths” runs through December 11th Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre on Navy Pier.

Running time is 2 hours, 10 minutes, with an intermission.

completedeaths-romeojulietRemaining performances are December 6th, 7th, 8th, & 9th at 7:30 pm; December 10th at 3:00 and 8:00 pm; December 11th at 2:00 and 6:30 pm.

Some performances are sold out. Tickets start at $42. Parking is available at a 40% discount in the Navy Pier Garages with validation from CST.

FYI (312) 595-5600 or www.chicagoshakes.com.

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at  “The Complete Deaths”

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