- The Washington Times - Friday, July 7, 2006

If American History lectures seemed a tad dry and Ken Burns’ specials are just not doing it for you anymore, the Reduced Shakespeare Company has the solution — 600 years of the past comedically compressed into less than two hours. There’s water-tossing, cream-pie-throwing and a re-enactment of the Lincoln assassination involving a confetti-filled balloon and a bullet the size of a salami. Bet you never saw that in Fundamentals of Democracy class.

In “The Complete History of America (abridged),” the members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company — Dominic Conti, Reed Martin, and Austin Tichenor — return with a fast, funny and often gleefully tasteless look at everything from Native Americans to Nixon, the Founding Fathers to Jerry Falwell.

There are no sacred cows in this satiric gallop through centuries of U.S. history. Lincoln is the butt of many jokes, while Jefferson, Franklin and Madison are smoking something homegrown from Monticello in their pipes while drafting the Bill of Rights the night before it is due. Betsy Ross now has a sister, Diana, and the entire Civil War is boiled down to the pithy phrase, “It was Madonna versus Shania Twain.”

Where else but from the Reduced Shakespeare Company could you find Amerigo Vespucci’s discovery of the Americas set to the theme from “Gilligan’s Island,” a rearrangement of the letters in George Washington’s name to read “gaggin’ on a wet horse” (the phrase they get out of “Spiro Agnew” would make Jenna Jamison blush), and an explanation of the original inhabitants coming to the land via the Bering Straits that includes balloon animals and hip-hop dance as visual aids.

Those not easily offended will find the RSC’s brand of anarchic humor and sight gags a splendid romp through historic milestones. To be this silly and inspired requires a lot of homework, and the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s syllabus lists Noam Chomsky, a Jeffrey Dahmer coloring book, Alexis de Tocqueville, Jack Kerouac and Neil Diamond among its sources.

So, though “The Complete History of America (abridged)” may be dumb in parts — a groaner involving Jimmy Hoffa and concrete comes to mind — it’s not stupid. It takes a certain kind of erudition to condense the Vietnam War into a couple of verses of Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham” (“I do not like your Vietnam/I do not like it, Sam I am”), the whole debate over homosexuality in the armed forces into an Andrews Sisters ditty, and the Lewis and Clark expedition into a cornball vaudeville routine.

Mr. Martin shows his roots as a Ringling Bros. clown with his rubber-faced demeanor and agile buffoonery, while Mr. Tichenor tends to play the cerebral straight man — one who often winds up with a pie in the face or clothes drenched by a Super Squirter.

New recruit Mr. Conti is the boyish cutup of the bunch, eagerly taking on the cross-dressing roles and coming off like a slightly naive, well-meaning goofball. Splendid throughout, the trio reaches dizzy comedic heights during a skit in which an equipment malfunction forces them to re-create a static Civil War slide presentation.

Funny as the show is, the astonishing thing is that you might actually learn a thing or two about American history. And that is the deftest trick of all.


WHAT: “The Complete History of America (abridged)”

WHERE: Terrace Theater, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, July 5 through 9 and July 29 and 30.

TICKETS: $40 to $45

PHONE: 202/467-4600

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