Performing Arts presents satirical American history

The Reduced Shakespeare Company will perform “The Complete History of America: Election Edition,” a satirical adaptation of historical events.

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An assassination by ballet can be both beautiful and deadly, just ask Abe Lincoln.

The Reduced Shakespeare Company presents “The Complete History of America (abridged): Election Edition.” The play summarizes American history from the arrival of Christopher Columbus to present-day, including the current presidential election.

The Reduced Shakespeare Company is responsible for several works, edited down so that each complete work can be told in 90 minutes. Reed Martin, a Reduced Shakespeare Company actor, co-writer and co-director, described their performances as satirical sketch comedy.

One of their first productions was “The Complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged).” The company also featured shows inspired by the Bible, Western literature, movies and sports.

“We are a three-person comedy troupe that takes long topics people tend to take very seriously and turn them into short, sharp comedies,” Martin said.

When creating these abridged versions of well-known stories, Martin said the troupe searches for topics that garner interest from the actors and the public. For the history of America, the search involved finding important events to cover and how to portray them.

It takes nine months, six drafts and workshopping the script during rehearsals before they could finish the play, Martin said.

“What seems funny on the page isn’t always funny on its feet,” he said.

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Martin’s theater experience includes a bachelor’s and master’s degree in performing arts and acting from University of California and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College. He joined the Reduced Shakespeare Company in 1989.

“I’d always admired the classic comedy … going back to Charlie Chapman and the Marx Brothers,” Martin said. “I had been classically trained, and I was a circus clown, and this company combined those two things in a great way.”

“The Complete History of America (abridged)” features significant American events that are historically accurate but portrayed in unconventional ways. Lewis and Clark’s expedition becomes a vaudeville act, and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln plays through a ballet.

There is also a “single bullet” theory that the shot heard around the world at the Battles of Lexington that started the American Revolution continued to fly, hitting Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and — inexplicably — Anne Murray.

Though portrayed through satire, the players do not twist the stories themselves to get the comical effect. For every show they do, they bring in experts on the topic to get the information correct even when it’s meant to be funny, Martin said.

“We do a comic take on the various parts of American history,” Martin said.

A portion in the second act is devoted to questions the audience may have about history. The Election Edition stemmed from when George W. Bush was president, and the actors answered audience questions as U.S. presidents.

Now, the special edition of the show features the actors portraying presidential nominees and answering audience questions while in character.

Martin said he enjoys doing these shows because of how much they make people laugh. Audience members have told the troupe how much they appreciate their shows and what it meant to them.

“It’s just very satisfying to make a room full of people laugh,” Martin said. “In some ways, it’s a bit cathartic for people to have a laugh.”

“The Complete History of America (abridged): Election Edition” will play at 7:30 p.m. in Jones Theatre at Daggy Hall on Thursday. Tickets are $18 for adults, $15 for seniors, $9 for non-WSU students and youth, and free for WSU students with ID. Martin has rated this show as PG-13.