Burlington Free Press, September 29, 2004|
The Complete History of America (Abridged)
By Brent Hallenbeck
Free Press Staff Writer
Just in case you think the play "The Complete History of America (Abridged)" might be an illuminating educational experience for you and your family, here are some tidbits gleaned from Wednesday's opening night as demonstrated by Vermont Stage:
- George Washington's name can be rearranged to spell "Gaggin' On Wet Horse";
- Spiro Agnew's name can be rearranged to spell, well, something more unseemly;
- The first shot of the American Revolution was fired from the Lexington and Concord Scroll Depository;
- Lewis and Clark were a hokey comedy team; and
- The civil-rights movement was jump-started by a bus-riding seamstress named Whoopi Goldberg.
There is an educational component to the gag-a-minute sketch comedy, but the real purpose of "The Complete History of America (Abridged)" - which opens Vermont Stage's 11th season - is to entertain at the expense of our own patriotic pride. The three-man play is a quirky little romp through the birth of a nation that, whether it's grubbing for money money money or ensuring that all men are not really created equal, often manages to fall just short of its potential.
The same can be said for the play, which, like any series of skits, hits the mark like a Bavarian cream pie (one of those finds its way into the face of an actor around the time the Berlin Wall falls) and at other times misses like an errant water-gun shot (several of those rain down upon the crowd during the World War I era).
Some of the segments written by Adam Long, Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor will test your patience, unless you have a soft spot for Amerigo Vespucci impersonators. It takes awhile for this whole magical history tour to start rolling, too, as it's a good half-hour ride across the land bridge just to arrive at the Salem Witch Trials, circa 1692.
Most of the bits, though, will leave you chuckling, and some, such as the live reenactment of a slide show of Civil War photos, should have you laughing outright. Watch out for a cornucopia of bad jokes, and even a few bad jokes well told ("The maternity-ward bombings? You've got the wrong guy. I'm not responsible for the baby boom!").
This is a work that hinges on comic timing, and fortunately the interplay of Corey Patrick, John Patrick (no relation) and Alex Smith is terrific. The three actors nail the complicated choreography needed to perform this play in-the-round, and their energy never wanes, even in those moments when weak material lets them down.
They also make pretty hot women. Don't ask.
So basically we're talking about a collection of moderate-to-steamy sex jokes, some slapstick humor, a healthy dollop of sarcasm and a group of fun, enterprising people who almost know something about their country and where it came from, but not quite. There's your American history in a nutshell, right there.