Get ready for a wacky wild ride through our nation’s timeline with the St. George’s Players ‘wonderfully zany presentation of The Complete History of America (abridged) currently playing at St. George’s Episcopal Church. If you weren’t so sure about knowing your history before seeing this show, you won’t be any more sure when you leave, but you certainly will have had a raucous good time.
But don’t let this terrific troupe of cartooned characters fool you (or make a fool of you!). Behind the slightly twisted “600 years of American history presented in 6000 minutes” is the intellectual brilliance of the witty Bards of Balderdash, the Reduced Shakespeare Company. Since 1981, the RSC has been scripting plays and presenting performances with comedic improvisational bling that leave no subject sacred.
The Complete History of America (abridged), written by Adam Long, Reed Martin, and Austin Tichenor, is the traveling comedy troupe’s second play out of several. It tramples through American history and politics with vigah, managing to offend just about everybody but tickling the funny bone at the same time. Called “New Vaudeville”, it’s classic slapstick, but crackpots with a conscience. Irreverent, corny, clever, it pokes fun at just about every turn in our nation’s floundering founding and comes up a winner.
The St. George’s Players have taken on a tough challenge that few can do — replicating somebody else’s cornball and successfully making it their own. It’s hard to re-create the comedic genius of the professional trio who created this madness, but the St. George’s Players, Dannielle Hutchinson, Gene Ferrick, Mary Koster and Lee Rowe, made us laugh in all the right places. The ensemble works incredibly well together, playing off each other in near perfect comic timing. They know just when to deliver the punch line and there are many in this show.
The play begins with the tale of Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian mapmaker and mariner who captains his ship to the theme song from Gilligans’ Island. Amerigo, after whom America is named, tips off Chris Columbus about the New World. So Cristobal Colon, his real name, now has the distinction of being the first American – “a slaughtering hero whose aim in life is to become rich.” Does this give you any indication as to how this show unfolded and the direction it took?
Now barreling through the French and Indian War and a hysterical Lewis and Clark singing duet, the ensemble manages to entertain with the native wit of the RSC complete with heavy symbolism, such as the sexist references made about “squaw” Sacagawea, Lewis and Clark’s trusted expeditionary guide.
Fast-forwarding, here’s a scene between several founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Ben Franklin as they take a toke in Jefferson’s tobacco field pondering what to do about the Bill of Rights:
“Madison, how about this for the beginning of our new Bill of Rights: ‘Got a problem? Throw money at it.'”
“No, no, it’s too liberal think.”
“Here’s what it should be: ‘Whether you’re a brother, or whether you’re a mother, you’re staying alive. Staying Alive!'”
“No, it’s too seventies. “
“Gentlemen, gentlemen, focus. Oh, how about this? ‘All men are created equal.
“Franklin, are you serious?”
“Does Dolly Madison have any more of those cakes?
“Man, I can’t believe the Bill of Rights is due tomorrow.”
No theme in American history is safe from the RSC’s evil eye. In a warped, whirlwind, time-warp, the Constitution, freedom of expression, civil rights, racism, sexism, homophobia, The Electoral College, conspiracy theories, assassinations and more come under fire in this fast-paced, brutal mutilation of American history, told in manically funny goofball style. It’s Punch and Judy with a whiff of Charlie Chaplin – complete with water pistols and a pie in the face. Puns, jokes, parodies, cracks, and word-plays massacre politically heavy subjects such as the Viet Nam-era Domino Theory of Communism and October Surprise, with carefree abandon. And the audience loved it!
From the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the deep trenches of World War I and II to a post-war America and the golden age of radio and TV, to boomers’ LSD dreams, road-rage, gas lines and Richard Nixon’s Watergate, the energetic St. George’s Players never miss a beat, keeping you engaged and in stitches, slaying the dragon every time with laughter. So much so, that at times, the audience was still laughing when the ensemble jumped right into their next lines and they sometimes could not be heard over it.
The ensemble brought us directly into their madcap action, however, with an audience- participation vignette from the 50s TV quiz show, Queen for a Day. And the crown went to the audience member who could best recall some of the most historically significant women of the United States. Somehow, Whoopi Goldberg’s name figured prominently here.
The simple church fellowship room of St. George’s Episcopal Church was the scene and the setting for the play. Lacking a real stage on which to perform, the riser-level presentation looked like a high school gymnasium performance. The American flag and a photo essay of the historical timeline was the poster board backdrop.
Despite the unsophisticated setting, the St. George’s Players more than made up for it with great acting, terrific singing, particularly Lee Rowe who does a mean impersonation of Richard Nixon, peace sign and all. Dannielle Hutchinson should be Broadway-bound; she’s an acting talent waiting to be discovered. Mary Koster is a dynamic bundle of energy with improvisational skills that were particularly noticed in the quiz show segment. Gene Ferrick added goofy gravitas especially during the closing film noir enactment. Director Emma Hadley likely had as much fun directing this troupe as we had watching them.
Underneath the political lunacy of this work, however, is the subtle awareness of the strength of America’s collective conscience. It’s what allows us to openly recognize our flaws and see our foibles – but with a capacity to look at ourselves and to laugh at ourselves. We can take a swipe at our own history and come out chuckling. The Complete History of America (abridged), through the deft performance of the St. George’s Players, showed us that our national identity and common humanity play out in uncommon patriotism.
“History is made by the winners” (unknown origin). The Complete History of America (abridged) is a winner. Go see it!
Running Time: 90 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
The Complete History of America (abridged) plays through this Sunday, November 17 at 3 pm at Saint George’s Players at St. George’s Episcopal Church – 7010 Glenn Dale Road, in Glenn Dale, MD. For tickets call the box office at (301) 262- 3285, or purchase them online.