Review: ‘The Complete History of America (abridged)’ at Vagabond Players

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History can best be summed up at times with satire. Do we really want to know every detail about events past, no matter how trivial? Humor can go a long way to helping us, as Americans, laugh at ourselves.

Sean Kelly, Fred Fletcher-Jackson, William B. Meister. Photo by Tom Lauer.

Vagabond Players’ The Complete History of America (abridged)  is just that kind of show. Directed with a spirit of improv by Howard Berkowitz, and starring Fred Fletcher-Jackson, Sean Kelly (who has appeared recently in Vagabonds Players’ All My Sons, and William B. Meister (who recently appeared in Vagabonds’ Our Town), The Complete History of America (abridged) will make you laugh deeply and heartily throughout. This show is a Library of Congress-sized reservoir of laughs.

The cast kept up the energy and laughs throughout, mining the material of Adam Long, Reed Martin, and Austin Tichenor for everything those writers wrote on the page and more. Berkowitz ensured the cast was lightning quick picking up on their queues; the show had a definitive improv feel when the cast broke the fourth wall and solicited the audience for history-related questions and because nearly every skit followed a “yes…and” structure. Due to the superior cast, even the corny jokes worked. It’s a late-night talk show married to Monty Python. The Complete History of America (abridged) is all about having a jolly time.

How can you go wrong with a skit involving 1500’s explorer Amerigo Vespucci and the tune to Gilligan’s Island? How could a comedy lover not love the sight of Kelly in a 18th Century style white wig and General Douglas MacArthur sunglasses, all to effect the visage of George Washington? What’s not to love about conspiracy theory jokes (“Did you know the person next to you has to take a leak? Coincidence? You decide!”)? It was all there: the Lewis and Clark Expedition; the Civil War; the World Wars; even a reference to the first Black President and the first Orange President, proving that “Orange is the new Black.”

Sean Kelly, Fred Fletcher-Jackson, and William B. Meister. Photo by Tom Lauer.

At one point, Kelly ran through the audience asking questions about U.S. Women’s History using a paper-towel core as a microphone. Fletcher-Jackson was a comic standout as he not only played various characters (including a hilarious Lucy Ricardo), but used his physicality to make those characters the highest degree of funny.

Meister’s history detective character, Spade Diamond, with his signature trench coat and fedora, lent a stream of corny one-liners and silly narrative to a skit that saw him search for the truth behind every American conspiracy ever thought off. Kelly’s Conspiracy Man character, with his corny coke-bottle glasses, was a character full of chuckles.

I liked Bush Greenbeck’s set, with it’s rudimentary drawings of historical figures such as U.S. Presidents, and the map of the U.S.A. painted on the stage floor. The costumes consisted of various shirts, military jackets, dresses and hats that represented certain characters and time periods—including a half-body Abe Lincoln puppet. You’ll get plenty of diaphragmatic exercise from all the laughter the show provides. Do your patriotic duty and go see it.

Running Time: Two hours, with a 15-minute intermission.

The Complete History of America (abridged) plays through February 5, 2017 at Vagabond Players – 806 South Broadway, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 563-135, or purchase them online.

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