Superbly orchestrated by guest director David Henderson and brilliantly performed by Eric Carl, Mike Raab, and Adam Twiss, Theatre In The Park’s zany presentation of The Complete History of America (Abridged) promotes the paranoid view of American History … for laughs. Big laughs. This radically revamped version of the original Reduced Shakespeare Company script brings Adam Long, Reed Martin, and Austin Tichenor’s History up-to-date with pinpoint jabs at “South Park,” Lindsay Lohan, Anna Nicole Smith, and, of course, President George W. Bush.
This is a wild-and-crazy show in which the Single Bullet Theory from the JFK assassination is introduced in 1775 to explain the Colonial militia fatalities during Battle at Lexington Green, at the start of the American Revolution; the Minutemen are lampooned as minute (pronounced “my-newt”) men and played by two cast members on their knees; Lewis & Clark become a vaudeville act; the Lincoln assassination is played for laughs; and Cold War paranoia is transformed into a hilarious film-noir spoof with Mike Raab, in drag, playing Lucille Ball arrogantly brandishing a cigarette holder as she might have played Lucy Ricardo’s evil twin.
Not even a terrible accident early on, when a ceramic bowl filled with water slipped out of Mike Raab’s hands and hit a ringside female TIP volunteer in the face, could dampen this incandescent evening in which three of the Triangle’s finest actors poke not-so-gentle fun at everyone historical, from our Forefathers and Mothers to our most recent presidents, with Nixon, Reagan, and both the Bushes being prime targets for the RSC’s razor-sharp satirical pens. (The volunteer miraculously escaped with a few minor cuts and scratches.)
Too much of a rundown on who does what to whom — and when they do it — during the course of this madcap 90-minute entertainment would spoil much of the fun. A good part of the humor in The Complete History of America (Abridged) comes from the surprise appearance of historical icons in unfamiliar — and usually apocryphal — roles and the whiplash-inducing transitions from sketch to sketch, a la the dizzying segues of the old Firesign Theatre, whose off-the-wall humor obviously inspired a host of subsequent acts, including the Reduced Shakespeare Company.
Suffice it to say, Mike Raab gets to play the Fool — as well as the Girl — big time, for big laughs. Eric Carl brings a succession of effete snobs flamboyantly to life; he gets in touch with his sinister side as he portrays an “X-Files”-like Conspiracy Man to a fare-thee-well, and he also impishly impersonates Presidents Nixon and Reagan. And Adam Twiss tackles various straight roles with brio and creates a host of rococo characters with wry wit.
Director David Henderson, set and lighting designer Steve Larson, and costume designer Shawn Stewart-Larson combine to create a great atmosphere for comedy. Together, they and the stellar cast make this tongue-in-check History particularly memorable. The revamped and updated script leaves no sacred ox ungored and, from time to time, renders many a TIP patron helpless with laughter.
Theatre In The Park presents The Complete History of America (Abridged) Thursday-Friday, Sept. 6-7, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Sept. 8, at 3 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Sept. 9, at 3 p.m. in the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre, 107 Pullen Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina. $21 ($13 students and active-military personnel and $15 seniors 60+). 919/831-6936 or via etix @ the presenter's site. Note: Arts Access, Inc., will audio describe the Sept. 6 performance. Theatre In The Park: http://theatreinthepark.com/v02/sections02/currentproductions/historyamerica.html [inactive 11/09]. Reduced Shakespeare Company: http://www.reducedshakespeare.com/. The Complete History of America (Abridged): http://www.reducedshakespeare.com/america.php.