It has been said that those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it ... unless you’re the Reduced Shakespeare Company.
Its members certainly remember their history. It just gets extremely condensed and comical once they get their hands on it.
“We take long, serious topics and make them into short, silly comedies,” said Reduced Shakespeare Company writer, performer, director and co-founder Reed Martin. “I don’t know if there’s anyone that does exactly what we do.”
Since its founding in 1981, the Reduced Shakespeare Company has created 10 “abridged” versions of different historical topics, periods or popular works in literature or entertainment, whether it’s Shakespeare, the Bible, sports or Hollywood, just to name a few. Martin and company have performed the company’s plays all over the world to critical acclaim on some of the most esteemed stages, whether it’s the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, Off-Broadway or in London’s West End.
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The company’s current U.S. tour features one of its first and most popular original works, “The Complete History of America (abridged),” which ran for 10 years at the Criterion Theatre in London and will be performed in Danville at the Norton Center for the Arts on Saturday. Promoted as “600 years of history in 6,000 seconds,” Martin said audiences will definitely see American history in a different way through 25 different scenes. Lewis and Clark, for example, are a vaudeville team. The company pays homage to events of the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s through old-time radio. The Cold War gets covered in a film noir-style, and Lincoln’s assassination is set to ballet.
“It’s sort of sketch comedy with a through line — the through line being we three idiots,” Martin said of himself and his fellow castmates, Austin Tichenor and Dan Saski.
For this version of “The Complete History of America (abridged),” audiences will get an additional treat due to it being an election year. The “election edition” of the play takes shape at the beginning of Act II, when two of the actors will come out dressed as current presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to hold a press conference and take questions from the audience.
Reduced Shakespeare Company has done the election edition and impersonated presidential candidates during election cycles as far back as 2000. Martin said that, in addition to looking forward to playing Trump so he can have a full head of hair (he is bald), he likes the unique opportunity it presents to interact and improvise with the crowd.
“Generally, you go to a play and don’t expect to have a chance to talk to public figures and ask them everything you want to know, and the audience loves putting us on the spot,” he said.
Martin said that whether it’s figuring out ways to write their abridged plays or pulling off all of the comedic scenes, lines and gags with a cast of only three actors, their style continually keeps crowds laughing and learning while keeping the creators and players on their toes.
“The task is impossible, but we’re too dim to realize it,” he said. “It is hard ... otherwise, I guess everybody would be doing it.”
If you go
Reduced Shakespeare Company
What: The touring company presents “The Complete History of America (abridged): Election Edition”
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 1
Where: Centre College’s Norton Center for the Arts, 600 W. Walnut St., Danville
Tickets: $27 to $49