“The Complete History of America (Abridged)” is a comedy about the roots of modern America that is rich in potential, but lacks many of the necessary theatrical elements to make the performance truly entertaining.
Written by The Reduced Shakespeare Company, the script is politically intelligent and at times, very witty. In less than two hours, the play covers historical events from the discovery of America to the Monica Lewinsky affair. Mixing elements of pop culture like the O.J. Simpson Bronco chase with major historical events, like the shot that started the U.S. War of Independence, the script has the potential to captivate an audience.
By relying on slapstick comedy and puns with sexual undertones, the writers did not make it a prerequisite that the audience was at all informed about American history. If performed at its intended pace, the play could conceivably entertain. But this Yale production lagged largely because of the noticeable pauses between lines. As a result of this lack of rhythm and the slow pace, punch lines that would have been funny seemed corny and even inappropriate.
Many of the antics on stage are annoying. Actors use large capacity water guns to spray the audience in a re-enactment of World War I and throw spaghetti and plastic fruit on one another.
The acting is altogether unpolished and unconvincing. The entire cast lacks the necessary energy and charisma to propel a play of this nature. Valerie Work ’03 overacts, upstaging her lackluster co-stars, Matthew Johnson ’03 and Andrew Lovett ’04. Johnson seems bored while delivering his lines and many of his one-liners are inaudible. Lovett delivers a better performance than the other two actors and has one great scene when he plays the “conspiracy man.” However, as an ensemble the three lack charm.
Sudler Hall is not an appropriate location for this play and the set does not make the atmosphere more believable. The sort of physical comedy presented and the type of antics used are distinctly out of place against the formal backdrop of the room. The set consists of red, white and blue bed sheets, duct taped together and strewn sloppily over dividers. The only lighting available in this location is the lecture hall stage lights and the house lights, and both are used distractedly during the performance for effect.
The choices made by the prop manager and the costume designer are not sensible. Costumes are rarely secure and in a single scene, actors lost components of their costumes whether it was a sliding wig, a lost hat or a jacket hanging by just one shoulder. Whether these decisions were intended to produce a deliberate effect, the constantly shifting costumes are distracting and add to the clumsiness of the play.
It is director Kristin Urquiza’s ’03 first play at Yale and it is definitely an ambitious project. Perhaps as a result of so many newcomers to theater on stage and behind the scenes, the performance lacks many of the necessary elements present in other Yale theater productions.
“Complete History of America (Abriged)”
Friday and Saturday at 11 p.m.