Is it possible that the bullet that killed JFK was also the one fired from the Lexington and Concord book depository, and took off in a white Ford Bronco? Or that the Bill of Rights was supposed to be accompanied by a ‘Bill of Wrongs’? Or that “Born in the USA” should be our new national anthem? Or that the American Revolution was fought to stop the British from imposing unreasonable taxes on us so that the U.S. Congress could do so?
Well, that last item is possible but the rest are part of the satire of American history presented by the Reduced Shakespeare Company as part of the ‘extravaganza” of their complete works at the Reston Community Center — which they advertise as “Ten Days! Eight Different Shows! Despite Popular Demand!”
The Complete History of America (abridged) is one of eight different shows currently being performed by the Reduced Shakespeare Company as part of the Reston Community Center’s Professional Touring Artist Series. Written and directed by Adam Long, Reed Martin, and Austin Tichenor, this play is not for those who are expecting sophisticated wit or academically accurate history. As noted in the program, “Any resemblance to historical fact is strictly coincidental.” Rather, this is a zany comedy which employs everything from slapstick (complete with a pie in the face) to anachronisms (such as a 15th-century telephone conversation) to rap music to a “slide show” made up of a series of tableaux vivants.
The entire show is performed by only three actors: Austin Tichenor, Reed Martin, and Dominic Conti, and each plays many parts—both male and female—with energy and panache. Although The Complete History of America (abridged) is not a musical per se, you will find accordion, tom-tom, and recorded music sprinkled liberally throughout.
The play begins with Tichenor, Martin, and Conti marching down the center aisle and singing an off-tempo rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” followed by a scene of Amerigo Vespucci taking a telephone order at his map store and then setting off to explore the New World in 1499.
In The Complete History of America (abridged), these three talented actors take us through eons of history to present the story of our country as they see it. In addition, they quiz the audience (spoiler alert: the answers to all the questions are the same), and they subject themselves to a quiz by the audience. If you usually like to sit in the front rows, you might want to reconsider, since the Reduced Shakespeare Company presents a unique view of war being conducted with high-powered squirt guns.
Not surprisingly, the costumes and props by Rose Blackshaw, Vernon Marshall, and Sally Thomas were instrumental in bringing this comedic history to life. For example, a very tall Abraham Lincoln was depicted with a painted balloon for his head under his (very tall) legendary stovepipe hat, along with huge, white-gloved hands. Of course, Barack Obama was portrayed with extremely large ears that Star Trek’s Mr. Spock would be proud of, as the caricatured President Obama brought the house down by singing, “Am I Black Enough for You?”
One of the more striking aspects of The Complete History of America (abridged) is the audience reaction. In addition to the laughter, there were loud groans in response to the many puns and risqué humor, along with cheers, jeers, and sighs that were reminiscent of the melodramas of yesteryear. It’s a whole lot of fun.
Running Time: About two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.
The Complete History of America (abridged) played its only performance on Sunday, September 14, 2014. However, the Reduced Shakespeare Company will perform similar shows with their funny views of lost works, sports, the Bible, great books, and Hollywood, through September 21 at the Reston Community Center—2310 Colts Neck Road, Reston, VA. Tickets and additional information are available online.