Filed under: Merrimack Repertory Theatre
‘Reduced’ to laughter: MRT’s Season Finale
by Kathleen Palmer
The Reduced Shakespeare Company is well-known for their concise skewering of the Bard’s work, the Bible, and history itself. Now RSC brings the evolution of humore to the stage with their “Complete History of Comedy (Abridged),” through May 18 at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, Mass.
The show will round out MRT’s season of spectacular offerings on a lighthearted note. Written by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, the show stars Dominic Conti, Michael Faulkner and Jerry Kernion. The trio crank through dozens of comedic references in a fast-paced barrage of jokes, skits, and songs. From a cavewoman popping out clown babies like a clown car (“And that was the birth of comedy), right through modern references about gay marriage legislation, there’s more comedy than you can shake a schtick at (no, I cannot take credit for that pun).
RSC sets up the framework of the show under a loose premise of the lose “Art of Comedy” ancient Chinese manuscript, a predecessor to the famed “Art of War.” The soul of this comedic bible, Rambozo, visits our players and guides them through the history of hilarity.
What’s terrific about this rapid-fire, laugh-out-loud performance is there’s actual historic facts and education of comedy mixed in. We learn about harlequin, the fool (“the role of the fool is to speak truth to power”), parody vs. satire, the rule of three (“when you see something once, it’s the set-up; when you see it twice, its’s the anticipation; when you see it for the third time, it’s the pay-off”), and the “yes, and” tenet of improv.
The troupe tells us the surprising fact that one of the first joke books ever created was done so by the Catholic Church. They then proceed, in monk robes, to read form the Book of Comicals, the first letter of Libidinous, and others, riffing on classic religious jokes sure to offend, even as you’re laughing.
And indeed, they don’t care if your nose gets out of joint. From religion to politics to different races, RSC informs us that “being afraid of offending another race” or viewpoint is, in itself, racist or prejudiced. Everyone gets an equal opporunity mocking.
Some of my favorite skits were Conti portraying Abraham Lincoln as a stand-up comic (“I have to tell you, I’m a little nervous to be in a theater”); a brilliant scene that skewers several Chekhov plays and as many sitcoms all at once (the man behind me absolutely lost it); the reading of critics panning classic bits like Monty Python’s “dead parrot,” Mel Brooks’ “Springtime for Hitler,” and Abbott & Costello’s “Who’s on First”; and Faulkner’s sweet ukulele song called “I Laughed ’til I Cried.”
There’s a terrific Muppet-y puppet show of the Supreme Court justices debating the issues, including the quippy “How do you solve a problem like Scalia.” We learn who is credited with the first rubber chicken. And referring to clowns as “floppy-shoed servants of evil” slayed me.
It’s a mostly clean show, but truly, you can’t tell the history of comedy, no matter how abridged, without a couple swear words, some bodily-function jokes, and the occasional double entendre (or single entendre, as Kernion once notes).
Don’t miss MRT’s last show until September. It’s a laugh-riot, and they’re going out on a high note. And a spit-take.
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