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All the Great Books (Abridged)

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Let’s just say this: There’s a bibliography. And the bibliography is funny. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the Reduced Shakespeare Company is back in town to refresh us on The Complete History of America (Abridged) and All the Great Books (Abridged), both of which have been sporadically buzzing the area since 1995. As usual, they are not making this up—the giggle about “the other RSC” is that it’s always managed to send up the fathers of our country, the titans of literature, and even God (in the one about his complete Word, abridged) without having to skew the source material too much. The jokes, it turns out, are in the original, and some of ’em can be kinda dark—especially in the American-history vaudeville, with its ongoing conspiracy-theory riff and its constant reminders that never mind the Louisiana Purchase, the Native Americans are still waiting for the check. There’s not much new stuff this time around: The N-word groaner (“Enron?”) was already a fixture when Great Books last took a pass at Huckleberry Finn in 2003, though Complete History’s pointed bit about the Taliban may be new to local audiences. Still, audiences who wanna brush up on their civics can count on a quick and thoroughly silly deconstruction of the word “American” (which rapidly devolves into a borderline-naughty round of anagramming involving the name Spiro Agnew) and a sassy but surprisingly lucid outline of the Lewis & Clark expedition (which rapidly devolves into a decidedly naughty bit involving the meaning of “squaw”); those on the somewhat less edgy comp-lit track, meanwhile, will have to be satisfied with the always-popular précis of War and Peace, the all-but-anarchic Don Quixote with simultaneous translation, and the reminder that The Lord of the Rings and the Communist Manifesto are still not covered in this course. (“No fantasy.”) The bouncy threesome onstage at the Terrace Theater—RSC veterans Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, plus delightfully gangly newcomer Dominic Conti—deliver a boisterously physical brand of comedy as they race through pun-packed scripts that range from laugh-out-loud hilarious to groan-out-loud awful, though they’re never less than thoroughly entertaining. And while conservatives in the Complete History audience will doubtless be annoyed to have paid $45 for a pointed reminder that Osama lived out the ’80s in the House That Reagan and Rummy Built, well, at least the pain will pass quickly.—Trey Graham