The Reduced Shakespeare Company, a theatrical troupe that introduced “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” in 1987, has recently added two new productions to its growing list of “abridged” comedies: “Completely Hollywood” and “The Complete World of Sports.”
The two new comedies will bring Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre's 2011-12 season to a close Thursday through May 20 at the Civic Center Music Hall's Freede Little Theatre, 201 N Walker. “The Complete World of Sports” will be staged at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday. “Completely Hollywood” will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 1:30 p.m. May 20.
“We write what we find amusing,” said author and performer Reed Martin. “We were influenced by ‘Saturday Night Live,' ‘Monty Python' and ‘Looney Tunes' back in the day; more recently by Penn and Teller, the Flying Karamazov Brothers and the smart, physical comedy of vaudeville.”
The Reduced Shakespeare Company got its start in 1981 with a 20-minute version of “Hamlet” that the company performed at Renaissance Fairs in California. That grew into “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare” (originally titled “The Compleat Wks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged),” a 90-minute survey of the Bard of Avon's extensive catalog of dramas, comedies and history plays. That production was introduced at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1987 and later played for nine years at the Criterion Theatre in London.
The RSC, which is not to be confused with London's Royal Shakespeare Company, soon began creating new shows, including “The Complete History of America,” “The Bible: The Complete Word of God,” “All the Great Books,” “Western Civilization: The Complete Musical” and “The Ultimate Christmas Show.”
Martin, along with Austin Tichenor and Dominic Conti, like to compare themselves to the Marx Brothers or the Three Stooges. Martin is the one who's supposedly in control, while Tichenor is the smart one with no common sense, and Conti is the goofball. They play fast and loose with their subject matter and regularly break the fourth wall to speak directly to the audience.
For “Completely Hollywood,” the RSC guys put together a list of the top 100 films of all time. Not surprisingly, their lists had only a handful of movie titles in common. As Martin explained, the lists would vary widely depending on who was compiling it.
“There certainly was no shortage of films to exploit,” Martin said. “We had to cover ‘The Godfather' and ‘Gone With the Wind,' but part of the fun was covering obscure movies. We found we could do a lot just with Hollywood cliches: If somebody coughs at the beginning of a movie, you can be sure they'll be dead at the end. We also created movies that we haven't seen but would like to see: combining ‘Taxi Driver' with ‘Driving Miss Daisy' for example.”
For those who may think “The Complete World of Sports” targets the minutiae of football, basketball, baseball and golf, Martin says a knowledge of sports is not required to enjoy the production.
“We often get school kids who know nothing about Shakespeare, but they still have a great time,” Martin said. “With the sports show, we spend a lot of time mocking various sports: the money players earn and the prima donnas. People who don't like sports will probably enjoy the show more than those who do.”
Patrons who enjoy the anonymity of sitting in a theater full of people they don't know should probably not buy tickets for seats near the stage. In addition to breaking the fourth wall, the RSC guys encourage, some would say even incite audience participation.
“We're known to berate audiences if they don't respond,” Martin said with a laugh. “And we like to pull people up on stage so we never know exactly what's going to happen. Ideally, the show will look like we're making it up on the spot even though it's pretty well scripted. We write what's funny to us and hope others find it humorous as well.”