The Reduced Shakespeare Company is just plain funny. The shows they do are funny, the ad-lib bits they do are funny, even their bios are funny. They throw enough funny lines out that, even if you miss a few or some don't fall within your acceptable area of comedy, there is plenty for everyone to enjoy. The holiday treat this year at the Public Theater is a set of two Reduced Shakespeare Company shows done in repertory: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) and The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged).
Cast members for this appearance are Matthew Croke, Michael John Faulkner, and Reed Martin (who is also a managing partner and writer for the company); all are versatile with distinct onstage personalities that work well together. In Shakespeare the trio covers, as promised, the "complete works," giving lengthy treatment to a few works and shorter coverage of others (for instance, sixteen comedies are combined into one hilarious play - because "the comedies aren't as funny as the tragedies"). Some of Shakespeare's plays are rethought and presented in different formats (as a cooking show, as a rap number, as a football game, etc.) and a multitude of costume pieces and props, including a sock puppet, are utilized. The entire second act of the show is devoted to Hamlet, which is performed fast, faster, extremely fast, and backwards. Although this show has been performed for years, the local references and ad-libs keep it fresh and the actors always seem to have a great time taking on the challenge of making the audience laugh.
The second night of the rep pair, The Bible, is well done, but not quite as successfully as the Shakespeare piece. Maybe it's easier to cross the line of good taste with this subject matter, as happens a couple of times in this piece, or it's not tackled with quite the creativity of the Shakespeare piece. That's not to say it isn't funny or that the Bible is treated irreverently. The cast proves it is possible to take a humorous look at the Bible, with all religions being lampooned equally. The funniest bits are ones in which the heretofore unnoticed ironic humor in the Bible is examined, such as questioning why everyone sat on one side of the table at the Last Supper, or studying the unusual number of repeated names used in the Bible (a "cheat sheet" song to remember the differences between each character is provided). They also provide one of the funniest and least uncomfortable examples of audience participation I've seen with a song about Noah's Ark sung to the tune of "Old MacDonald."
The Reduced Shakespeare trademark jokes are here: the verbal assaults on latecomers, the required spraying of the audience with water, and ad-libbing about audience members. The energetic and talented cast seems willing to do almost anything for a laugh, and the audience is very appreciative.
The Reduced Shakespeare's The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), by Jess Winfield, Adam Long and Daniel Singer with additional material by Reed Martin, and The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged), by Adam Long, Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor with additional material by Matthew Croke, run through December 30 at the O'Reilly Theater for the Pittsburgh Public Theater. The next production at the Public will be Gilbert & Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore which begins January 31.