Make ’em Laugh: “The Complete History of Comedy (abridged)”

­­­Michael Faulkner and Dominic Conti of the Reduced Shakespeare Company; Photos by Meghan MooreMichael Faulkner and Dominic Conti of the Reduced Shakespeare Company; Photos by Meghan Moore

Presented by The Reduced Shakespeare Company
Written and Directed by Reed Martin and Astin Tichenor

April 24th – May 18th, 2014
Merrimack Repertory Theatre
50 East Merrimack Street, Lowell MA
The Reduced Shakespeare Company on Facebook
Merrimack Repertory Theatre on Facebook

Review by Danielle Rosvally

(Lowell) The Reduced Shakespeare Company have long been proprietors of abridged histories and this touring production of The Complete History of Comedy (abridged) will deliver everything that you expect from the boys at the RSC: a three-man team dishing out biting satire, poignant historical and social commentary, and a dude in a really bad wig.

The reason that I love satire is its wit: it takes a real gem of a mind to produce a viable satire. Anyone can out with a fart joke (and believe me, this show has plenty of those too) or a rubber chicken gag (also check; there’s an entire section dedicated to them); but it takes a true comic genius to formulate good satire. The first rule of satire is this: you need to know what you’re talking about before you can really satirize it. Without some intellectual understanding of the thing that you’re making fun of, your joke is simply going to ring hollow.

As a Professional Theatre Historian,* I can tell you this: the history innate in this show is actually pretty solid. In fact, it’s solid enough that I’d highly recommend the production to any theatre PhD preparing for her comprehensive exams as a way to review the important facts of comedic enterprise (the few instances where these facts are confused are mostly due to socially-propagated misinformation rather than anything else and… come on… it’s a satire not a history exam). I might have been the only audience member completely (and loudly) losing my composure during the entirety of the Greek-style invocation meant to model the classic chicken joke, but that stands testament to the beauty of this play: the materials and performances hold up under pressure.

Dominic Conti, Michael Faulkner, and Jerry Kernion form a high-energy three-man team that works seamlessly together to bring the correct amount of yuckle to your chuckle. These extremely talented gentlemen deliver the material with comic dexterity. Zigging and zagging as an unstoppable force, they know exactly when to punch it and exactly when to let it ride on home. They are adept at handling an audience (even when literally handling them).

Obviously, with a show like this, not every single sketch is going to be as uproariously funny as the next. There are definitely peaks and valleys with this one; but on the whole expect to be thoroughly entertained. I was particularly appreciative of the Shakespeare/Costello remix (a classical twist on the classic sketch “who’s on first?” utilizing the aptly-named Elizabethan playhouse “The Theatre” rather than the ephemeral ballplayer “Mister Who”). I also thoroughly enjoyed the conflation of trashy reality television with Minstrelsy. Because, as the guys say, “this is white people making fun of white people”. Additionally, in what might be titled the crowning moment of the evening, I learned a new dead baby joke!**

Last, but certainly not least, the boys tackled the most sensitive subject of the evening with poise, dignity, and the raw truth that it deserves. Any history of comedy wouldn’t be complete without some mention of those “floppy-shoed servants of evil”: clowns. I, personally, hate clowns. Their white faces and red noses set my teeth on edge and I am amongst those many of the populace who would much rather befriend a tarantula than a clown. As such, I was delighted to find solace in The Complete History of Comedy rather than terror. Yes, there were clowns, but they were artfully engaged and tastefully utilized.

So really. Do you like to laugh? Then what are you waiting for? Take a ride up to Lowell and have some fun. Unless you hate fun; in that case I guess you could stay home and mope about it.

*Let me tell you how often I get to use this to any feasible advantage in my “everyday life”…. This is actually the first time.

**A feat, let me tell you. I’m a veritable connoisseur of the socially inappropriate.

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