By Emma Kinghorn, Staff Writer
Provocative, well-researched and well-timed jokes littered the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s performance of the “Complete History of America (abridged)” Saturday night in Hall Auditorium.
The show consisted of the United States’ entire history presented by three men — Austin Tichenor, Reed Martin and Dan Saski. The trio relied heavily on props and costuming to move the show from Amerigo Vespucci and his marital troubles to the election of today.
The 35-year-old company showed the audience just why they had stuck around for so long while employing a shockingly small amount of Shakespeare. This turned out to be helpful, however, because summing up over 500 years of history in 90 minutes can only be accomplished with very speedy talking. Such quick dialogue required strict crowd attention, for if one checked their messages, or even the time, they were apt to miss about 15 years of history and a joke or two.
However, for those who are not well-versed in American history, much of the show’s humor came from outrageous costuming, clever plays on words or mature, or at times seemingly immature, innuendos.
And lots of water. Between spit-takes and rain dances, the first few rows of the audience were treated to several showers.
For those who had a decent amount of American history in their back pocket, small anecdotes, as well as cynical, satirical takes on events or figures held a treasure trove of humor. The story of Washington’s minutemen army boiled down to the threat of a discrimination lawsuit when miniature soldiers, literally ‘minute men,’ enlisted. The composition of the Constitution was put off until the night before, in true college student style, and painstakingly written by hungover legislators with a little help from Thomas Jefferson.
The show’s cynical approach to history was capped off at the end, where, in an effort to give the staple American happy ending, the trio told the history of North America and its people in reverse, insinuating that there is no way to spin it positively. It was the pinnacle of self deprecation, acknowledging our missteps, hypocrisies and corruption.
It wasn’t a show for anyone easily offended by political incorrectness, with historically touchy subjects such as Japanese internment camps and Native American wars being reduced to one-liners and half a laugh.
Nor was it meant for those who don’t appreciate obvious jokes and cheesy moments. Those moments included the age-old joke of intermittently speaking and lowering your voices when addressing anyone in the audience who might have a hearing disability. In such a historically accurate performance with the potential for highbrow and witty humor, the dumbing down or callous treatment of these topics became speedbumps in an otherwise well put together performance.
Film noirs, radio shows and musical performances were just a few of the ways that the performers held the crowd’s attention. The company answered age-old questions such as “Who let the dogs out?” in stride with “Why is our National Anthem so difficult to sing?” Fear not, for they wrote us a new version.
With an already seemingly comical election season, even more crucial questions were answered by guest performances from Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (read: middle-aged men in abhorrently brushed wigs and ugly suit jackets). The audience could ask their deepest, stupidest and most ill-informed questions and receive witty responses from comedians. Others chose to put forth intelligent queries about the historical successes of third-party candidates and hear historians’ input.
One would think that a show about American history performed by a Shakespearean theater company would be monotonous, rather boring and difficult to understand, but the audience was treated to a refreshingly funny and modern take on all things American.