ART skews 'History' in season opener

Published: Thursday, September 1, 2005 at 10:55 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 1, 2005 at 10:55 a.m.
It's a Wednesday night in downtown Gainesville, and three dudes are trudging across a dark stage, arms outstretched and moaning as if they are failed Frankenstein clones yearning for a mate.
Or possibly they are in pain. Hard to tell, really.
These are actors, mind you, three locals anchoring "The Complete History of America (abridged)," the rowdy season opener at the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre. And this bizarre Frankenstein ritual is a rehearsal warm-up for a show that opens tonight.
The moaning trio is warming their vocal chords and, basically, entering that absurdity zone so critical to this play.
The Frankenstein exercise is followed by improv-comedy drills that summon Superhero Nurse Guy, Superhero Nurse Lad, pimples and an invisible camel. One improv exercise is timed, and then sped up and then sped up even more.
These odd warm-up drills make sense. Stars Casey Stern, Adam Lishawa and Drew Blair must be quick on their feet for the play at hand, a wild romp that traipses through 600 years of American history in 6,000 seconds. The pace is frenetic, and audience participation is a must.
The three play off the audience and, at times, come on to the audience. This play, one character proclaims early, is a "Post-it note for the history of America." They start with the 15th century, question who really discovered America and dress in drag.
Then, like Columbus' fleet, things really go astray.
Produced here by Thursday Afternoon Productions and directed by Esther Biggs, this comedy may have a familiar feel for local theater buffs. It was created by the Reduced Shakespeare Company, the same troupe that created the "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)," which enjoyed a hugely successful run at the Gainesville Community Playhouse early this year.
And, indeed, the RSC elements are here: Three dim bulbs zip through volumes of academia armed with goofy props, sly pop-culture references, wigs, rat-a-tat-tat dialogue, questionable taste and a general thirst to mess with the audience.
The subject matter, the characters tell you, is "from, you know, books and stuff."
RSC launched "The Complete History of America (abridged)" in 1993 at Montreal's Just For Laughs Festival, the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge and the Serious Fun Festival at New York City's Lincoln Center. Tours through the United States, Britain and Israel followed.
In this play, the lessons, skewed as they may be, include Betsy Ross (and her other flag ideas), witch hunts, world wars, Spanish explorers and the nags who loved them. The second act takes on film noir in an ultra-condensed history lesson that includes Lucy Ricardo and Monica Lewinsky.
Like "Shakespeare (abridged)," there is much running, jumping, entering, exiting, stomping, shouting, singing and sweating. RSC shows are defined by a frenzied pace. Here - in "America" - there is also a white Bronco, a Lewis and Clark vaudeville revue and "the best jokes of 1805."
Yet for fans of "Shakespeare (abridged)," one critical RSC element remains in "America (abridged)": white guys rapping.

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