Not just because the "Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)" involves jokes on religion, politics, race and especially body humor.

But because you may be puked on, asked out on a date, have your life threatened or your head chopped off, have your chair or program stolen, get handed random herbs or - as happened to Ashley Brown - get hauled up on stage to play Ophelia in "Hamlet" and be required to scream as loudly as you can. (Ophelia goes insane.)

The Coaster Theatre's performance of all 37 of Shakespeare's plays (and 154 sonnets) in 97 minutes is ... well, fast. Colleen Toomey gets to hide in the wings to help the three actors changes from costume to costume - although their base costume of breeches, tights, tunics and especially the Converse high top shoes serves them well.

And while it seems like Jason Hussa, Tylor Neist and Craig Shepherd would have enough to do, they still manage to throw in plenty of ad-libbing. Shepherd, in addition to his many regular roles in the play, is the Shakespearean expert who explains the deeper meanings of the plays. Hussa and Neist called him scholarly, pretentious and brought out a giant plastic dinosaur to represent him.

Yes, this is anything but dry, boring, vomitless Shakespeare."I will not do dry, boring, vomitless Shakespeare for these people," Hussa insisted, right before all of Shakespeare's historical plays were portrayed in a football game to explain how the crown of England passed from person to person to person. Hussa played a character who killed his wife during that scene. Hussa's wife Brandy Hussa was in the audience that night. So Hussa, while running by, chopped off her head - or acted it out, anyway.

Hussa was the goofiest of three very goofy characters. He played the female roles, generally with a wig falling into his eyes. He frantically avoided kissing. Every time he died (which was often - this is Shakespeare), he had to mime puking. Every time he did so, he aimed for the audience.

Ophelia takes insanity to the next level in one version of Hamlet, which is repeated in a speed version.Hussa also threatened director Victoria Parker, then ran away and tried to take a helicopter out of town because he didn't want to do "Hamlet."

Neist is the sanest of the three, covering the sonnets while Shepherd is bringing Hussa back. But he enthusiastically took part in the play's diversions into dentistry, Hitler, airline safety, Chernobyl, rap and cooking.

Audience participation was extensive, especially while Brown was being coached in her screaming role as Ophelia. To help her analyze her character, the actors got the audience to play her psyche. Her friend Chris Olson got pulled up on stage to play her ego by running across the stage (Ophelia's ego was on the run.) The section of the audience assigned to play Ophelia's vanity chanted "Paint an inch thick!" causing her to wince. I was one of the people playing Ophelia's id, then was singled out for not being a good id and was given extra coaching.

After that sequence, King Claudius stole my seat.

The play is basically designed to make fun of Shakespeare, right up to the point where "Hamlet" is repeated in the abridged abridged version. Then in an even shorter version. Then backwards. As this was the last play in the show, it ended with bows and a resounding "You thank!"

Shepherd said he almost passed out from moving so fast during this sequence.

Ad-libbing was encouraged, the actors said, and mistakes were used to the fullest. "You pray for the mistakes," Hussa said after the show, adding modestly, "In that sense, we are aces."

The cast of 'Quilters.' Top row, from left: Barbara Ayres, Janie Sexton, Mrailyn Reilly and Deanna Nielson. Middle row: Emily Dante, Lisa Fergus, Stephanie McGuire and Kristin Schulz. Front: Kaya McGrath. Photo by Linda Hintz, Coaster Theatre."Quilters," by Molly Newman and Barbara Damashek, is a tribute to the courage and spirit of our nation's pioneers. Blending scenes, music and dance into a rich mosaic, the story portrays the sweep and beauty, the terror and joy and the harsh challenges and rich rewards of pioneer life, a life in which a woman's legacy is the quilts she has made that tell the story of her life. The stories contained in the patterns of the quilt depict the lot of women on the frontier, and make "Quilters" the perfect way to celebrate the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial.

Directed by Chrisse Roccaro with musical direction by Rebecca Chelson, "Quilters" features Janie Sexton, Marilyn Reilly, Lisa Fergus, Barbara Temple Ayres, Emily Dante, Kristin Schulz, Deanna Nielsen, Stephanie McGuire, Kaya McGrath, Margo Dueber and Ann Tierney.

"Postmortem" is a clever thriller about eccentric actor/playwright William Gillette, famous for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. He has invited his sister and the cast of his latest play to spend a weekend at his pseudo-medieval castle on a bluff overlooking the Connecticut River. The evening's entertainment is a seance, setting the scene for Gillette's greatest role. Someone is trying to kill him, and he suspects it is one of his guests. Shots in the dark, long-held secrets, deathbed letters, ghosts and misbegotten suspicions come together in this whodunit spiced with suspense and laughter.

"Postmortem" opens with a champagne reception July 7. The play runs through Sept. 17, alternating with "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)" and "Quilters." Frank Jagodnik plays Gillette and is joined on stage by David Sweeny, Brandy Hussa, Liz McCall, Ben Shaffer, Gladys Sawyer and Stephanie McGuire.


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