Indigestion strikes Reduced Shakespeare

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Email clubbers were offered attractive discounts to the first midweek performances of The Complete World of Sports (abridged) before it opened, and by the time the show completed its six-day sojourn at Booth Playhouse, discounts were available for the weekend performances. Poetic justice, if you ask me. Reduced prices were exactly right for this latest Reduced Shakespeare Company opus.

Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, who launched this franchise with The Compleat Wks of Wllm Shkpr (abridged) back in 1987, are as charming as ever on the live stage, and their accomplice, Matt Rippy, is still a promising talent. Has been since 1996. But conceptually, Complete World of Sports is a trainwreck, disastrously veering off the rails forged by previous abridgments, including The Bible, Great Books, and American History. Martin and Tichenor’s miscalculation is elemental. They knew enough not to try to abridge the world of drama, the world of religion, or the Library of Congress. What possessed them to try to swallow the worldwide history of sports?

Sports started off auspiciously enough, with a set that, like its logo, was shamelessly ripped off ESPN’s iconic Sports Center with our stars posing as anchormen. But the enterprise reeked of confusion and desperation as soon as the Reduced triumvirate revealed the objectives of their “abridge-a-thon” on a low-tech whiteboard. They would cover the full scope of sports, in nine separate categories, on all seven continents, from the dawn of recorded history to today, climaxed with a celebration of the Olympics.

Yes, there was a correspondent’s report from Antarctica, opening the floodgates to specious sports in addition to those specious categories. A finely calculated ignorance was one of the great things going for Great Books and its biblical brethren, but that’s instantly surrendered when you start making shit up. There were skits on Americanized soccer, South American – or was it Latin American? – bullfighting, boxing, a three-part harmony fight song, an audience participation shtick during the Olympic segment, and my personal favorite, synchronized swimming. Baseball was reduced to a sight gag, Martin collapsing to the floor in sheer boredom each time the word was mentioned.

As haphazard and slapdash as all this was, this Martin-Tichenor script never conjured up the sense of madcap hurry that has been Reduced’s trademark since they travestied the Bard. The subject is so large and the coverage so thin that achieving the stated RSC objectives could only happen arbitrarily when they said so. How thin was that coverage? Instant replay might prove me wrong, but I believe the only athlete mentioned all evening was Tiger Woods – and not for achievements on the golf course.

Shakespeare had to have Hamlet and Romeo, along with Juliet and the fair Ophelia, among its usual suspects. Bible could hardly be called “The Complete Word of God” without Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. And could you imagine a History of America without George Washington, Tom Jefferson, and Alfred E. Newman? So if RSC’s calculation was that their audience isn’t as literate about sports heroes, the feeble outcome supplies scant evidence that they know more than the little they’re telling.

Biting off more than they could chew in The Complete World of Sports, Reduced Shakespeare has come down with a tummy ache. Or simple indigestion.

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