The Body Count is High and Hilarious in The Complete Deaths at Chicago Shakes

complete-deaths Stephan Kreiss, Aitor Basauri, Petra Massey and Toby Park in The Complete Deaths. Photo by Ruler. In June, British actor and playwright Tim Crouch got his Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead on with his hysterical, empirical take on Twelfth Night’s Malvolio, and returns to Chicago Shakespeare as adapter and director with 18-year-old Spymonkey’s The Complete Deaths. Whereas his solo outing was laser-sharp, this script, which delivers on the title as advertised, is messier and less driven than Chicago’s own counting-game performance (and now endangered species) Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. The ensemble of four--joint artistic directors, balding Bard proxy and Spaniard Aitor Basauri (who has trouble removing his Elizabethan collar) and spitfire Petra Massey, managing artistic director and probable lead Toby Park, and German Stephan Kreiss--run roughshod over the sparse stage, showing all of Shax’s 75 onstage deaths. (No Ophelia since she drowns only in monologue, much to Massey’s chagrin. “I want to do proper acting.” Mercutio and Lady MacB also don’t make the cut. Polonius is there, but stabbed through the ass rather than the arras.) It’s noted that Antony has the longest death/suicide, spanning 110 lines and a scene and a half. A buzzing fly heavymotif, supertitles and a countdown clock mark the body count as the ensemble encourages the audience to “kick back and switch off their well-fed bourgeois complacency” as the glover’s son from Warwickshire creates the carnage. There’s also Monty Pythonesque animations of Shakespeare’s head and other rapid-fire images of Saddam, Kim Jong-il, “Shitler” and others projected behind the action, as well as some puppets and pin-cams, recorder and dance numbers (Cleopatra and the asps), lighter fluid and marshmallows, flaccid sword fights, and Blue Man-style rhythmic PVC pipes. The detritus obfuscates the meaning of death in the canon and on stage at-large; a cleaner dissection, perhaps without an intermission, would drive the relentless carnage more into focus. As is Spymonkey’s kunst style, the players make meta-observations like “removing the meniscus between performer and audience,” as the three stage a coup (for “puppies and bubbles”) against Park, who is in “a completely different theatrical space.” Some demises are quick, out, out like a brief candle, while, for a few, “it takes a long time to die sometimes.” Maybe this production could add the Bard’s pace advice to their humorous conceit (we already have the end-of-the-world part queued up): “Come, let us take a muster speedily: Doomsday is near; die all, die merrily.” The Complete Deaths runs through Sunday at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Ave., 312-595-5600. Tickets are $52-58.
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Karin McKie

Karin McKie is a Chicago freelance writer, cultural factotum and activism concierge. She jams econo.