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Tell Mr. Guinness! Man breaks Shakespeare show record in Red Hook

The Brooklyn Paper
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OK, so maybe the one-man sword fight in “Macbeth” left too much to the imagination. And maybe the 16-comedy ferry ride felt a little rushed. And, yeah, that 25-second “Julius Caesar” lost some of the angst of Brutus’s existential struggle, but you try doing 31 Shakespeare plays in three hours.

That’s exactly what author and performer Jess Winfield set out to do on Saturday, beginning his Shakespearathon by “performing” all 16 of Shakespeare’s comedies aboard the free IKEA ferry from Manhattan to Red Hook (why the ferry? Well, four of the Bard’s comedies feature shipwrecks so, as Winfield said, “Why the hell not?”) and set the world record for most solo performances of Shakespeare plays in Brooklyn in a single day.

The comedies were all merged into one spirited monologue entitled, “The Comedy of Two Well-Measured Gentlemen Lost in the Merry Wives of Venice on a Midsummer’s Twelth Night in Winter, or Cymbeline Taming Peracles the Merchant in the Tempest of Love as Much as Much as you Like it For Nothing, or The Love Boat Goes to IKEA!”

Raucous hijinks, including a duke discovering that his two nephews are actually cross-dressing nieces, ensued. Even those who were seeking Swedish meatballs, not swordplay, seemed to enjoy it.

Back on dry land, Winfield led his 40-strong merry band from the Beard Street big box to Rocky Sullivan’s bar on Dwight Street for his “Macbeth.” Another walk to the Brooklyn Ice House on Van Brunt Street (where those $2 Bud Light pints were well appreciated by theater critics and drinkers alike) led to Winfield’s “Julius Caesar,” which consisted solely of this dialogue:

Soothsayer: Caesar, beware the ides of March.

Caesar: What the hell are the ideas of March?

Soothsayer: The 15th of March, Caesar.

Caesar: That’s today!

Caesar proceeds to stab himself repeatedly.

Caesar: Et tu, Brute.

Caesar collapses in death.

Wild applause ensues. Much consumption of $2 Bud Lights continue.

Next stop, Coffey Park, where Winfield laid out eight Shakepeare histories in the style of a football announcer covering a contest pitting kings, queens and other ne’er-do-well crownholders (King Lear was about to score the winning touchdown, but he was hit with a penalty flag on the five yardline). Again, much stabbing ensued, though, alas, without any more Bud Light.

Later in the afternoon, Winfield, best known for as one of the founders of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, achieved a personal best, breaking the four-minute “Hamlet,” which is not easy to do with a play that typically runs four hours.

“It’s a bit of a challenge,” Winfield said before the performance at Freebird Books on Columbia Street, which sponsored the all-day marathon, “because that play has a lot of, um, words.”

Though he has spent the last 20 years reducing, truncating, editing and, some say, improving on Shakespeare, Winfield’s death march on Saturday was set up in support of his first novel, “My Name is Will: A Novel of Sex, Drugs and Shakespeare.” Set in 1980s California and 1580s England, it follows the lives of the young William Shakespeare and a failed Elizabethan scholar Willie Shakespeare Greenberg — whose lives are linked by not only a desire to achieve something in life, but by a hallucinagenic mushroom (raucous hijinks ensue).

At the end of the long day of performing, and setting what could be a Guinness record (if there had been a representative of that company, beside the stout, been on hand), Winfield reflected graciously on his achievements.

“I defy anyone, you know, Ian McKellan, Kenneth Branagh, you think you got the s—t going on, try coming on down to Brooklyn and try doing 31 plays in one day, motherf—s,” he said.

Gersh Kuntzman is the Editor of The Brooklyn Paper. E-mail Gersh at gkuntzman@cnglocal.com
Updated 5:04 pm, July 24, 2008
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