Although a holiday visit to The Nutcracker or A Christmas Carol evokes warm and fuzzy nostalgic feelings, there's nothing like a total escape from the sentiments (and pressures) of the season to enjoy an irreverent, high energy, rapid fire Reduced Shakespeare Company show - or two. The RSC returns to the Public Theatre this year to present a new show, All the Great Books (abridged), and one from their established bag of tricks, The Complete History of America (abridged).
Add another success to the RSC's list of presentations with All the Great Books. The setting is a high school, and the three performers are teachers (Reed Martin is the Coach, Michael John Faulkner is the Drama Teacher, and Matthew Croke is a Student Teacher). The audience is there to learn about more than 80 of the "greatest books" (the interesting list, from Ulysses to Bridges of Madison County, is printed in the program) in under 100 minutes. Research has been done well and the cast shows their knowledge (especially Reed Martin) during the question and answer period that is offered after intermission. As per the usual format, some books are merely mentioned and others are given fairly in depth treatment. High marks to creators Reed Martin, Austin Tichenor, and Adam Long for providing a great deal of clever humor, some political satire, and a good dose of slapstick while imparting real information about the books in question. This is a fun way to learn about many works of literature.
The Complete History of America is more polished than Books, as the wrinkles have been ironed out through many performances. Again, there is a lot of concrete information provided along with the many laughs and topical references. For both shows, the cast is very busy with simplistic, but funny and appropriate costume changes and props. There is some audience participation (more if latecomers are seated during the show - you can see the cast salivating at the opportunity to lay on some good humored reprimanding for theatregoers not arriving by curtain time), a few jokes about local goings on, and in History, the ubiquitous Supersoaker assault on the audience.
You will not meet another cast that is more intent on making an audience laugh and have fun than this one. Kudos to Martin, Faulkner, and Croke for keeping the energy and humor level high and providing two very refreshingly enjoyable evenings at the theatre.
The Reduced Shakespeare Company's All The Great Books (abridged) and The Complete History of America (abridged) run in repertory at the Public Theatre through January 4th (Books) and 5th (History). For a complete schedule and ticket information, call 412-316-1600 or visit www.ppt.org.
For more information on The Reduced Shakespeare Company, visit www.reducedshakespeare.com.