American History for the Short Attention Span

July 6, 2019

If you feel like you weren’t paying attention in History class and think that attending The Complete History of America (Abridged) just might help you with that ACT exam, umm, probably not going to happen. On the other hand, if you decide you want to spend a quick 90 minutes laughing at the antics of three actors with extreme stamina and pace depict the history of our country from the 12th to the 21st century, then the Vanishing Elephant Players presentation of the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s “The Complete History of America (Abridged)” is exactly where you need to be. 


Written by Adam Long, Reed Martin, and Austin Tichenor; this show is not the deepest examination of America’s history, but it’s not really supposed to be. Those three authors (in various combinations) are responsible for the “(Abridged)” set of ten plays (and counting) which includes the better known “The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged).” The show reminded me of “The Capitol Steps” comedy troupe type of show without the focus on politics. 


Director Dave Ryan had a number of challenges to deal with. First, the Historic Masonic Temple in Bay City has no air conditioning. This is not a deal breaker, but you should plan to dress light. Second, one of the three actors in the ensemble had an accident just a few days ago, so Stage Manager Erica Tatum stepped into her role. Having said that, there was no obvious struggle on Tatum’s part as she played her role with the confidence and character that one would expect had she been cast in the role from the beginning. Often taking the role of “straight man” to her out of control castmates, her leadership down the path through history was quite entertaining. 


Ryan also had to work with sparse resources. This is part of the charm of the Masonic Temple theatre but and in this case, the light design by Nick Suchytta was perhaps too sparse. There are nine primary lighting instruments which creates a dark space of fair proportion between the actual stage and the house performance areas. Often the actors were positioned directly in the dark space. When the cast was able to move further downstage, they found their light 


Matt Kehoe plays his characters in a way that lets you know he is having fun. There were times when Kehoe was difficult to hear, perhaps partly due to the fact that he never stops running back and forth from one character to another with the frantic pace of this show. Kehoe has a habit of looking above his audience which, for shows in a small space, can be distracting. On the other hand, in his long litany of roles, his character voices matched every role he played, and he maintained a high level of consistency with each. 


Speaking of character and voices, the third and final member of the cast is Bailey Richardson. I have not had the pleasure of seeing Richardson before, but I hope to in the future. Her combination of voice and character was truly hilarious. She was the actor of a thousand voices and during act two she should be applauded simply for being able to run around the theatre a couple of times without losing consciousness in the heat! 


I have to admit that, with this level of talent on the stage, I was left wondering “why this play?” While it has moments that are quite funny, it is all at a very superficial level with lots of 12-year old boy humor and obvious punch lines. It seemed that the Trump character may have also been an added scene which was played very carefully and had nowhere to go. That said, it’s the fourth of July weekend, we’re all hopefully just having fun anyway. The show continues July 6 at 7:00pm and July 7 at 3:00pm, all at the Historic Masonic Temple in Bay City.   


Tickets can be purchased at the door for $10 or in advance online for $8.00. 


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