This summer, the Open Door Theatre will revive one of its most successful productions, The Complete History of America (Abridged), with two new cast members and a new director. The Chapel Hill, NC-based theatrical company will present this outrageous abridgement of American history — originally written by Adam Long, Reed Martin, and Austin Tichenor for the California-based Reduced Shakespeare Company — outdoors at various Triangle locations between July 11 and Aug. 10.
Regarding the original RSC production, Pamela Sommers of The Washington Post wrote: "Just as the company's members good-naturedly bash the Bard in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), so do they cheerfully run riot over five-hundred years of our country's history. During the manic, ninety-minute program... [they] mine dozens of landmark events and trends for comic gold.... Not only do they know how to give American history an irreverent boost, they actually turn it into something accessible and alive."
Stephen Holden of The New York Times said, "The Complete History of America interprets the past as a breathlessly paced sequence of silly vaudeville sketches, word-association games, puns and crude parodies of movie and television genres. Nothing is sacred, and many of the facts have been skewed to suggest the paranoid ravings of a particularly loony tabloid."
Open Door company member/dramaturg Anthony Fichera will direct the theater's encore production of The Complete History of America (Abridged). Fichera previously staged Open Door's holiday presentation of The Eight: Reindeer Monologues last winter.
"I saw this play three years ago when the Open Door staged it for the first time in Chapel Hill," says Anthony Fichera. "At that time, I dramaturged the production — Mike Rhyne was the director. I was approached this spring to redirect it for this summer and I gladly agreed."
Open Door company member Benjamin Beecher is the only original cast member to return. Open Door veteran Kit FitzSimmons (A Mislaid Heaven) and newcomer Will Stimpson will complete the trio of zanies who will attempt to cover 50,000 years of American events in 90 minutes.
Fichera claims, "The most fun thing about this play is its constant change of tactics. The characters in the play can and do try everything under the sun to get the audience's attention. Getting actors to work at a breakneck pace and make it look fun (and making an audience laugh) is never-ending work. 'Dying is easy, comedy is hard.'"
He adds, "The play is about three guys: 'Will' (Will Stimpson), 'Kit' (Kit FitzSimmons), and 'Ben' (Ben Beecher) who have come together to put on a play about American history from approximately 50,000 B.C. to the present day. They have no total agreement as to how to do it, and their field of intellectual references veers between high-brow political theory and fragments of contemporary culture. Their tactics range from skits [and] audience participation to a final, extended riff on film-noir detective movies involving everybody from Lucy Ricardo to Ronald Reagan."
Performing The Complete History of America (Abridged) outdoors adds a sizable load to Fichera's already substantial directorial burden "The most challenging thing about this play," he says, "is how to take a script written for an indoor, fully technical production and turn it into 'guerilla theatre': a piece that is slated to be performed outdoors in various locations with almost no tech support (lights, set, costumes) whatsoever. We have a portable tape player, a portable keyboard, and a Pignose amp; and that's all the technology we can lay claim to. We've also tried very hard not to stage a carbon copy of what we did three years ago: the world has changed in three years and so must the show."
Fichera emphasizes, "We have no set and no lighting. The costumes are derivations from the original creations of [Open Door company manager] Jen Bauer and additions compiled by our co-stage managers Allyson Tytel and Steve Tell. I have provided some 'sound design' in the form of a portable keyboard but it's really mostly funny noises and ambient sound."
He adds, "The costume pieces are generally ludicrous caricatures and reductions of historical ideas and styles. Some of the costume pieces are attempts at historical style, others tend to be almost surreal substitutions (look out for a recurring fish). This isn't a period piece, period."
Director Anthony Fichera also warns, "If you come see the play on a warm evening, be prepared to get a little wet. [There are] three actors with three Supersoakers — get the picture? Also, the play skewers people and ideas on the Left and Right. Bring your sense of humor. I would describe the humor level as PG-13: tactless and moderately innuendo-laden but not outright in-your-face. Nothing you or your kids haven't seen on Nickelodeon (or 'Survivor'), for the most part. Somewhere between Farrelly Brothers and Barney I guess."
The Open Door Theatre presents The Complete History of America (Abridged) Friday-Saturday, July 11-12, at 6 p.m. at The Streets at Southpoint mall, 6910 Fayetteville Rd., Durham, North Carolina; Friday-Saturday, July 18-19, at 8:30 p.m. at the Skylight Exchange, 405-1/2 W. Rosemary St., Chapel Hill, NC; Friday-Saturday, July 25-26, at Joe and Jo's Downtown, 417 W. Main St., Durham; Friday-Saturday, Aug. 1 and 2, at 6 p.m. on the Weaver Street Market lawn (Carrboro location) and Sunday, Aug. 3, at 6 p.m. on the Weaver Street Market lawn (Southern Village location); and Friday-Sunday, August 8-10, at 6 p.m. in the amphitheatre atop Rosemary Street Parking Deck (at Henderson St.) in Chapel Hill. Free ($5 suggested donation). 919/923-2068. http://www.theopendoor.net/ [inactive 8/03] or http://www.reducedshakespeare.com/america.html.