Back to Basics for “History 101”

Graphic taken from the “History 101” Facebook event page.

presented by ImprovBoston
Written by James Ferguson
Directed by  A. Vincent Ularich

Performances January 11, 18, 25 only – get ’em while they’re hot!
40 Prospect St
Cambridge, MA
ImprovBoston on Facebook
History 101 FB event Page

Review by Gillian Daniels

(Cambridge) Improbable and strange at the best of times, delving into the subject of history seems like an excellent move for a troupe over at ImprovBoston. Writer James Ferguson and director A. Vincent Ularich riff on notable, ancient, and over-the-top historical anecdotes. The skits vary between silly to stark, but the common thread running through all of them is far too loose to stitch the show together.

Some of it works. Jim Remmes is excellent as a befuddled fanboy of Jesus Christ (played by the consistently hilarious Stewart Evan Smith, Jr.) during the crucifixion or an ambitious Wright Brother haphazardly putting together a plane. Poking fun at the ancient world is also a strong direction, with Mary Niederkorn as the serene Oracle of Delphi and Julia Short as her non-nonsense secretary or Quentin James as a befuddled caveman being asked to give a fashion show by Rosena Cornet.

But among the jokes, at least on the night I went, there are more misses than hits. The silences were long from an audience expecting more polished material. A broad sketch involving a support group for women in history falls flat and a victim critiquing a Viking raid seems shapeless. There are some gems, enough to keep people interested, but a lot more humor could have been squeezed from the material.

Some of the actors go into scenes with far too much hesitance. Cynthia Aledi Salazar is a charming narrator but her timidity compared to the energy of others on stage is noticeable. There’s a lack of connection happening, I think. A good push toward cohesion for the cast, getting them all on the same wavelengths, would straighten some of History 101’s unevenness.

History 101 is a patchwork show, with many of the scenes previously produced elsewhere around the country. The Frankenstein stitches show. Beyond being set outside the present, there doesn’t seem to be much that pulls it all together. There’s no moment of “ah-ha!” the way there is in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983), a comic film of disparate parts that somehow ties everything together in the end. Here, James Ferguson and the cast are trying to fuse together a show where all the parts are differently shaped. There are moments that break through, but these genuinely funny bits and pieces require more molding, more connection before History 101 can be called a whole.

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