Yes, today’s headline features a line from the irreverent comedy currently playing at the Virginia Shakespeare Festival at the College of William and Mary.
A long time-line scroll dating back over 10,000 years stretches across the top of the stage. Three cultural guerillas, namely actors John Ammerman, (was also in the terrific “Of Mice and Men” at Tidewater Regional Repertory), Karl Kippola and Matt McGloin, (loved him in “….Shrew”), take you on a wild, side-splitting ride into totally politically incorrect, comedic territory.
Insubordinate interpretations of the past co-mingle with references and puns about the present. What happens on the stage of the Virginia Shakespeare Festivals 30th Season closer is this: “The Complete History of America Abridged” by Adam Long, Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor.
Quickly get over the shock of the irrepressible irreverence paid to the icons and legends of America’s 500-year history and allow yourself permission to settle in for 90 minutes of wonderful insanity. Vaudeville sketches, sight gags, parodies of movie and television genres, celebs and politicians are portrayed by these three guys in a breathlessly paced high-energy performance.
They play their mission to the hilt. In the text, nothing or no one is too sacred or off limits. It’s obvious the actors are having a grand time up there. In a loony, manic way, they portray oodles and oodles of America’s personages. (Some of our historical situations/scandals should only have ever been so funny in real life.)
The writing in one or two scenes at the top of the show is weaker than the rest. The Amerigo Vespucci scene is especially mediocre. Also, I didn’t appreciate a certain scene about President Lincoln, which I found offensive. To me, there ARE certain moments that should remain untouchable. Early on, however, there’s an hysterical scene in which the explanation of the word AMERICAN is played with audience participation. After that, we are off and running at breakneck speed.
Pulling off a production of such non-stop irreverence is a difficult thing. Festival Director Chris Owens took the leap and jumped right in, pushing the envelope of manners and etiquette to the max with a take-no-prisoners attitude. His choice of visuals and sound cues help keep it all moving a la burlesque. Shakespeare and his groundlings would approve.
I particularly enjoyed Act Two with its parody of three soldiers trying to escape from the trenches of WWI and the best sequence of the evening, a Sam Spade character rocking us back and forth between WWII, the present and everything in between. Unlike Act One, which was comprised of single vignette scenes parodying specific moments in history, Act Two bursts at the seams with this film noirish plot. Historical figures collide with one another – mixing metaphors and leaping across different time frames, leaving us with an imaginative, zany comedy.
This American History is fun. Beware – the show is an equal opportunity offender. Get over it! In a crazy sort of way, it’s a relief to laugh at the idea what we’re taught, matters. It softens the edginess we feel these days. The bursts of laughter from the audience were so loud that more than once I had to ask my friend “What did they say?” It closes Aug. 3. Check out VSF online.
On another note, since I’m not on Patmos or Delos this year, I thought a nice bottle of Greek wine would do the trick. I went to the Wine Seller and thanks to the expertise of Heather, found just the right libation to help soothe my breaking wanderlust heart. The label reads, and I copy, “Kouros…from the rhoditis grape which flourishes in the small vineyards on the north facing Peloponnesian foothills near to Patras in Southern Greece, at a height of 200-450 metres….”
So, there I stood, transfixed. Glassy-eyed and dreamy – barely able to sign the credit card chit. Went home, brought out some feta, made a salad, and lovingly, respectfully opened my newly purchased book, “Sailing the Wine Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter” by Thomas Cahill.
A week later, my Kouros is gone and I’m half-way through the book. I’ve decided that if you can’t be lolling about in Tuscany or wandering the cobbles of Jerez de la Frontera or climbing the temples in Nikko, go get a bottle of Montepulciano or Sherry or sake, find the book that helps take you there and after one page and one sip, with no crowds, no sun burn and no gas bill, you might happily remember what you did this summer.