Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, September, 2002
The Complete History of America (Abridged) is a very silly show, which gallops smartly along for two hilarious hours in this delightfully sophomoric production at The Theater Barn. Do not go expecting high art, but prepare to revel in low comedy — about as low as it gets with pies in the face, men in drag, and groaningly bad puns.
This is the second of the five Abridged shows originally written and performed by the various teams of comics who bill themselves as The Reduced Shakespeare Company. Local audiences may be familiar with their first work The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged). It is important to stress that area productions of shows written by Reduced Shakespeare Company members are not performed by or sanctioned by that group (who will be making a rare local appearance at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on November 2 with their new show The Reducers: All the Great Books (Abridged)). In fact the rights to perform an RSC show stipulate that the performing group not bill themselves as the RSC or mention the company in their publicity. This is a good idea because not everyone is capable of capturing and reproducing the level of manic silliness generated by the originals.
You can usually tell in the first five minutes whether or not the performers and director are on the right track, and, thankfully, director Evan Cabnet and his team of three young actors at the Theater Barn launch themselves swiftly and boldly, never letting up the pace of their own volition. The fact that the script (yes, this show does have a script) suddenly adopts a leaden and plodding pace in the middle of the second act is not their fault, and even then they soldier on manfully, garnering many laughs along the way. Cabnet obviously understands and enjoys this brand of slap-stick humor, and he has brought together a talented team to present it.
Always entertaining Theater Barn vet Matthew Daly is joined in this production by two newcomers — the very funny James Oakes and the slightly bland Jeff Boles. Abridged shows always feature three men playing all the roles, billed as themselves and addressing each other by their real first names. The trick is to assemble a trio of performers who are versatile team players, capable of morphing from one character to the next in the blink of an eye, while maintaining their individual identities but not stealing the show. Daly is a master of this art, and so is Oakes. Boles is no slouch, but his star shines less brilliantly than the other two. I am always glad to see Daly, and I would like to see more of Oakes and Boles on local stages in the near future.
There are more props than set required for The Complete History of America (Abridged) and kudos go to stage manager Sara Thompson who kept those pies flying and the wigs on straight, but Abe Phelps has exercised his own special talents in painting the star spangled risers and backdrop for this show. Allen Phelps’ lighting, as always, compliments the set and direction well.
The Complete History of America (Abridged) is a particularly good show to enjoy with the young people in your life. Even a six or seven year old with little knowledge of American history will get a big kick out of the outrageous antics on the Theater Barn stage.
The Complete History of America (Abridged) runs weekends through October 13 at The Theater Barn, located on Rt. 20 just west of the town of New Lebanon, NY. The show runs just under two hours with one intermission and is suitable for the whole family. Call the box office at 518-794-8989 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2002