Two out of Three Ain’t Bad: “The Complete History of America (abridged)”

Photo courtesy of Jon Niketh

Photo courtesy of Jon Niketh

Presented by Arts After Hours
Book by Adam Long, Reed Martin, and Austin Tichenor
Directed by James Tallach

March 27 – April 4
Rantoul Blackbox Theatre in LynnArts
25 Exchange Street, Lynn MA
Arts After Hours on Facebook

Review by Daniel Rosvally

(Lynn, MA) Listen, I know why the “Complete Works [abrgd]” series appeals to small theatres. With their cast of three can-be-anybody no-need-to-gender-or-type-bend parts; quirky, witty, wordy, and smart humor; fast-paced whirlwind nature; and high-demand for low-budge props and costumes, they’re pretty low-maintenance shows from a production standpoint. The Complete History of America (abridged) follows in the steps of its forefathers as steadfastly as drinking Sam Adams. The crew at Lynn After Hours has done a decent job in presenting something chuckle-worthy, but I will say that patrons who enjoyed a glass of wine before the show laughed much more frequently and with more vivaciousness than those of us who were stone sober.

First of all: the Rantoul Blackbox is a really interesting space. Since the theatre is built in a former bank vault, you can spend your time pre-show or during intermission ogling the old vault door, or having a look at the cross-section of wall that was gouged out to form the concession stand. Like most blackbox spaces, it’s a chameleon theatre that offers a plethora of seating options. This show, intimate and in-your-face, took place in three-quarters and thanks to some creative directing, there’s really not a bad seat in the house.

The cast was uneven. While Cameron Gosselin and Dan Prior thrilled and delighted audiences with their brilliant comic timing and top-notch physical comedy skills, it was clear that Casey Tucker couldn’t keep up. Tucker lacked vocal power to be heard in even the small space, and she didn’t seem to be truly “in” the part. Many young actors struggle with letting go and just acting rather than acting like they’re acting; unfortunately Tucker fell into the second category. While she has a lovely singing voice, she just couldn’t carry the demands of the performance.

Doubly unfortunately, since this show is so reliant upon its small cast to take the energy and run with it, Tucker’s lackluster performance dragged the ensemble down. Gosselin and Prior tried their best to carry Tucker’s dead weight, but struggled to keep the show rolling with the high-energy and intensity that this kind of comedy demands. I mean; these guys did everything. Prior performed an exuberant ribbon dance with an oversized timeline in Act 1. Gosselin pantsed himself onstage after having taken a pie to the face. The usual series of wacky shabby/chic props and terrible wigs that accompany a Complete Works… [abridged] performance were worn and used. The rule of three was studiously followed. I will admit that my cheeks hurt from grinning, but better casting would have resulting in much more sober belly laughing.

One more thing which I feel I would be remiss not to mention: portions of this piece are remarkably insensitive. While I generally don’t mind raucous humor at the expense of my fellow man, and I’m reasonably certain that the segments in question were written in the original script and therefore perhaps not entirely the fault of this production, I couldn’t help but feel slightly uncomfortable while watching a segment devoted to making fun of Native American origin myths. To me, the big trouble was that this portion of the piece wasn’t poking loving fun at a cultural heritage, but rather blatantly humiliating it in the most derogatory way using outdated stereotypes as straw men to do so. Anyone who has ever hung out with me in a less-than-professional setting can attest to my less-than-PC sense of humor; if even I feel uncomfortable with something then it’s probably crossed a line somewhere. I wish Tallach, as a director, had reconsidered how to stage this problematic portion of the show in a way that was perhaps slightly less likely to raise hackles.

If you’re looking for some amusement (and you don’t mind sucking up the ticket price; a bit hefty for community theatre in my opinion), you’ll find that at Arts After Hours. If you’re looking for irreverent humor that doesn’t pay heed to race, gender, or creed, you’ll find that too. If you’re looking for a flawlessly polished professional performance, you might want to look elsewhere. Arts After Hours has some rough edges to smooth out before they can bat with the big boys.

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