Shakespeare's first play, The Comedy of Errors, is a hilarious trifle about two sets of twin brothers separated at birth. It's filled with slapstick, mistaken identities and ludicrously happy endings. It's also his shortest work—about 90 minutes without edits. It's a breeze compared to an uncut Hamlet, which can run for more than four hours. Orange Coast College's Supersonic Shakespeareoffers abridged versions of both classics in one sitting.
Comedy is already so short it seems beside the point to cut it further; Cecil Pickett's 45-minute version illustrates the risks. The play's broadest moments are here, but it feels top-loaded, with exposition vainly trying to make the complex story clear. There's little time for the comedy or plot to sink in before it's on to the next headbutt or plot point. There is some animated staging—color-coordinated dolls flung about as the twins are born, Super Soaker squirt guns used to represent a storm at sea, and inventive entrances on scooters and pogo sticks—but Alex Golson's laid-back direction is unfocused, and his actors' whimsy isn't controlled enough to make the piece as fun—or coherent—as it should be. Three actors stand out amid the enthusiastic cast: Travis Woods' agile clowning as Dromio is Buster Keatonish, and Angela Lopez and Angel Correa, as Dr. Pinch and assistant, dance up a storm while deftly skewering The Lion King in their brief-but-inspired moments.
Tom Stoppard's disrespectful piece of anarchy, The Fifteen Minute Hamlet, edits Shakespeare's original down to its most familiar lines. The result is a production that shimmers in every way that Comedy of Errorsdoesn't. Credit Stoppard, one of the sharpest minds in theater; he has covered his subject in various other forms via his film/stage versions of Rosencrantz and Guildensternand the loving in-joke of Shakespeare in Love.
Under Golson's tight, amusing direction, the piece boasts a bevy of wicked comic turns. Sean Gray single-handedly puts the "ham" back into Hamlet, and we get more fun from Correa and Lopez. Her wiseacre, Karen Carpenter-skewing Gravedigger and his squeamishly pompous Claudius tip-toeing through the sprawled bodies at the play's climactic slaughter are gems highlighting one of the most economical, and strangely effective, "adaptations" you can possibly imagine.
Supersonic Shakespeare at Orange Coast College's Drama Lab Theatre, 2701 Fairview Rd., Costa Mesa, (714) 432-5640, ext. 1. Fri., 5:30 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m. $5.