Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, August, 2002
Bad. Awful. Ouch! Brandon and I left at intermission. Brandon said that the humor was “rude” even for his rowdy 13-year-old male ears. Actually, the humor was less bawdy than what I heard at the Sophie Tucker show at the Mac-Haydn , and there were no naked men like at Barrington Stage, but jokes were so poorly timed and tastelessly delivered that the end result was often deeply offensive.
The Complete History of America (Abridged) is the second of the four “abridged” shows created by the Reduced Shakespeare Company — The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged), The Complete History of America (Abridged), The Bible (Abridged), and The Millennium Musical which claims to offer up a ninety minute version of world history from 1-2000 CE . I was supposed to be able to claim today that I had seen all four of them, except having left this one at intermission that would be a lie. But the bottom line is that Brandon and I are HUGE fans of the RSC and their wacky brand of humor and we have driven many miles to see their shows, whether they were performing them or not. This is NOT the RSC at Oldcastle, and I think it is best that anyone connected with that group stay far, far away lest they be moved to madness and violence by this awful production.
Having said that this production is just plain terrible, it would be kind of mean to rattle on for several paragraphs about exactly who and what is wrong. Sort of like repeatedly stabbing a corpse. So I will pick my victim and be brief. I blame Oldcastle artistic director and the director of this production, Eric Peterson. Peterson obviously has no affinity for this kind of humor. I can’t imagine what possessed him to select this script and then decide to direct it. I wondered while the curtain was up whether the actors had memorized their lines or were just reading them off of some cue cards at the back, and now I am wondering whether Peterson really read the script or whether someone told him that Shakespeare and Company had made a pile of money off of The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) for the past two summers and that this would be a small cast, low budget season-saver for Oldcastle – like Forever Plaid without the royalty fees for the music. Just grab three guys, give them the script, and watch the profits roll in…NOT!
In late September Brandon and I will pile in the car and drive to The Theater Barn to see their production of The Complete History of America (Abridged). We will not be able to leave at intermission then because I will officially be The Press. But we are betting even money that the Barn, with a non-equity cast, will do a MUCH better job with this piece. It is not very hard to be better than awful, and the Barn is as capable of misgauging their abilities and their audience as any local theatre, but we have seen them pull off similar shows with great style in the past, and we are counting on being thoroughly entertained and having our faith restored in the writing abilities of the Reduced Shakespeare guys.
The Complete History of America (Abridged) runs through August 10 at the Oldcastle Theatre Company (802-447-0564), housed at the Bennington Center for the Arts at the junction of VT Rt. 9 and Gypsy Lane in Bennington. I understand that the full show runs about two hours with one intermission. Please call the box office at 802-447-0564 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2002