Murderous Shakespeare: Curio Theatre’s ‘The Complete Deaths’ takes over West Philly

Shakespeare The Complete Deaths
Rebecca Gudelunas

There are 75 onstage deaths within the plays of William Shakespeare.

One is more dramatic, menacing and bloody than the next. The stuff of Shakespeare is run through with stabbings, poisonings, head severings, smotherings. And now West Philadelphia’s Curio Theatre will present all of those onstage deaths within 90 minutes with a set of acrobatic clown-actors — adapted from Shakespeare from playwright Tim Crouch and Great Britain’s Spymonkey — with ‘The Complete Deaths’, which runs March 17 to April 1 at the Calvary Center for Culture and Community.

Talking about the literally bloody rehearsals of ‘The Complete Deaths’, director Meg Trelease and one of its clown-actors, Tessa Kuhn, state that the mantra of Spymonkey — the Brighton-based international comedy and physical theatre company — touches on gamesmanship above-all-else.

“Silly games, stupid games, games to connect the actors, push the clowns on stage, all of this has been a whole lot of fun,” said Trelease of guiding the savage hands behind the suicides of ‘Julius Caesar’ and the snakes in a basket in ‘Antony & Cleopatra’ to name but a few.

“We didn’t even touch on text during our first days,” said Kuhn, speaking to the oddity of not speaking some of theater’s most respected and beloved lines of drama and comedy. “We just commenced with stage games such as musical chairs with my dad and my aunt (yes, Kuhn’s family are respected clowns) in order to get comfortable with each other.”

Comfort, however, doesn’t stay a part of the process of ‘The Complete Deaths’.

“In William Shakespeare’s quest to invigorate his creativity, he had to find different, unique ways for people to die onstage,” noted Trelease. “If everyone in his plays just got stabbed with swords, that would get kind of boring.”

Looking at a dread serious theater piece such as ‘Hamlet’ or the bloodbath that is ‘Titus Andronicus’, the outrageous absurdity of its imaginative, diverse murders and slaughters are never considered – that is until ‘The Complete Death’.

“When folks come to see our show, we think people will be amazed and awed,” said Kuhn.

“We have transformed the Calvary black box into a functioning industrial meat factory – what better place for 75 deaths and all that blood,” said Trelease.

To alleviate boredom and thrill audiences anew each time out in the 1500s and the 1600s, Shakespeare had to come up with vivid, original devices so to die dramatically each time. Maybe that meant Prince Arthur’s long plunge to the death fall of in ‘King John’, or the carnage at the end of ‘Hamlet’, or even a mean killer pie served by Titus Andronicus to the Queen of the Goths.

“They die in ditches of loneliness, they fall over dead for no reason, it’s all exploration – if you had to write 75 onstage deaths, you really have to dig deep to the bottom of that barrel,” said Trelease. “And that’s always pretty funny.”

‘The Complete Deaths’ runs March 17 to April 1 at the Calvary Center for Culture and Community, 4740 Baltimore Ave. For information, visit