Abridged too far? History lesson funny, irreverent
Arizona Daily Star; Tucson, Ariz.; Nov 2, 2001; Kathleen Allen;
About 10 years ago, actor Austin Tichenor's phone rang.
"Want to play 'Hamlet' in London's West End?" asked the voice on the other end.
What actor wouldn't?
Of course, there was a catch: the voice on the other end was a member of the Reduced Shakespeare Company. The "Hamlet" he was playing was part of the company's "Complete Works of William Shakespeare," which takes all of 90 minutes to perform. He had to talk really fast and make it convincing.
Tichenor made the decision really fast. He packed his bag, left his wife in the States and headed to London.
During the yearlong run in the city, he and his fellow actors - Reed Martin and Adam Long - sat down between performances and wrote "The Complete History of America - Abridged." Invisible Theatre brings Tichenor and Martin, along with Reduced Shakespeare Company member Matthew Croke to Tucson for three performances next week.
"We wanted to do something different," Tichenor, speaking from his Los Angeles-area home, said at a pace almost too leisurely for a man who can do a Shakespeare play in less than two minutes.
"We had toured all over with 'Shakespeare,' and people were saying, 'We've seen this. What else have you got?' We were worried about being a one-trick pony."
The three figured they could take on the history of the Americas. Heck, they fit 37 plays and several sonnets of Shakespeare's into 90 minutes. Stuffing 500 years of American history into the same amount of time should be a snap.
"We did far, far, too much time sitting around arguing about what we should cover," Tichenor said about the beginning writing period.
The best way to do it, they decided, was to go their separate ways, come up with their own ideas and gather around the table with something concrete to offer.
"It was a great process," said Tichenor, who studied history and drama at the University of California at Berkeley. "We did an enormous amount of research about the history of America and quickly discovered that, while there was a lot that was funny, we had to write about people that were known. All these wonderful jokes about Van Buren went on the wayside, and great ones about the Gadsden Purchase? Gone."
Here's what they came up with: The entire Cold War is covered in three minutes.
They provide the definite answer to the nagging question, "How many Democrats does it take to screw in a lightbulb?"
The play also reveals that the founding fathers got stoned on Monticello Gold, though we question their sources for that one. The story of the settlement of Jamestown is told in rap.
In short, not much is sacred.
"It's somewhat controversial," Tichenor admitted. "It celebrates America while being irreverent. But we hope we are equal-opportunity fun pokers."
And, he promises, it does have a happy ending.
"We Americans," he explained, "require a happy ending."
The Complete History of America - Abridged
Presented by: Invisible Theatre
Performed by: Members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company
Credit: Arizona Daily Star
Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.