The Reducers: All The Great Books (Abridged) by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, with additional material by Matthew Croke and Michael Faulkner, is the best thing that the California-based Reduced Shakespeare Company has done since their signature piece, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). Presented by Off-Broadway Series South, The Reducers is set in a high school classroom, where a 108-minute remedial literature course (counting intermission) is under way.
This all-out, no-olds-barred assault on the 79 greatest of the "Great Books," from The Iliad and The Odyssey to Bridges of Madison County (?!?), stars bald former Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus clown Reed Martin as the curmudgeonly, whistle-tooting Coach; Michael Faulkner as the tweedy Professor who teaches drama at the high school; and Matthew Croke as Matt the Student Teacher who is often as clueless as his students.
The Reduced Shakespeare Company is a bunch of really wild and crazy guys-and an occasional gal. These self-described "bad boys of abridgement" are famous for their fast-paced, highly irreverent comic condensations of great books and American and world history.
The best RSC productions are real knee-slappers; the worst are still funnier than almost anything you have seen on "Saturday Night Live" since Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, etc., chewed the scenery. The Reducers is another merry masterpiece from the RSC, a zany romp that leaves no sacred cow of literature ungored.
As the Off-Broadway Series South ad says, The Reducers offers "A Little Dickens. A Short Longfellow. Reduced Proust." Highlights include:
· A hilarious send-up of Charles Dickens' novels called Great Expectorations.
· The Professor's badly mangled medley of the world's great poetry.
· High points from The Iliad and The Odyssey-together called The Idioty-with the travails of petulant Achilles and brave Odysseus lampooned to a fare-thee-well.
· A silly spoof of Little Women as a sports story diagrammed by Coach.
· A merciless satire of Walden as rewritten by Ernest Hemingway.
· An R-rated parody of Don Quixote performed in entirely Spanish.
· A cockeyed look at Ulysses by James Joyce, with a voice over by Jane Fitzpatrick as an irritated actress playing Molly Bloom.
· A game show during which Jane Austin, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf compete as Bachelorettes 1, 2, and 3 on "The Dating Game."
If the mere mention of the topics enumerated above provokes a chuckle, the actual show will have you rolling in the aisle, like the embarrassingly small Tuesday opening-night audience, which gave Messrs. Croke, Faulkner, and Martin a hearty standing ovation. Don't miss The Reducers. It deserves to play to packed houses!
Off-Broadway Series South presents The Reducers Thursday-Friday, Sept. 19-20, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Sept. 21, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Sept. 22, at 2 and 7 p.m. in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh. $31-$43. 834-4000 or 231-4575 (group sales). http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/2002-2003/offbroadway.html#reducers [inactive 4/04] or http://www.reducedshakespeare.com/home.html [inactive 1/04].