BWW Review: THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF COMEDY (abridged) Bows at the Falcon Theatre
The last time I laughed, really laughed at something funny, I didn't stop to ask myself what made it funny. The various classifications of comedy through the ages have never seemed that significant to learn unless I were a professor of comedy or were looking for a few items of fun trivia to share at a cocktail party. Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor love to abridge as in their Reduced Shakespeare and the History of America, both of which seem to work just fine with audiences, but if you reduce comedy, doesn't it take the fun out of funny? For the first half of The Complete History of Comedy (abridged), currently onstage at the Falcon Theatre, I felt like I was in a classroom instead of the theatre. Lists and lists of the funniest people, funniest double acts, etc. were thrown at us as if we were students preparing for a major exam on the subject. But by the time the first act came to an end, in a scene filled with strobe lights, a Mack Sennett chase replete with cream pies flying and cops falling down took center stage, and what we had been hearing about started to make sense. Comedy is the slap, the pratfall, the schtik, the slapstick producing the laugh-filled relief that we get from the pressures of everyday living. Under the fast paced direction of Jerry Kernion, three geniuses of physical comedy Marc Ginsburg, Mark Jacobson and last. but hardly least Zehra Fazal prove that they can put on a show and make us laugh.
Except for the excessive exposition, particularly at the beginning, I found the show delightful in many ways. Take these examples of scenarios. A patient (Jacobson) trusts two quack doctors to cut him open. Like cleaning the garage they pull everything out of him but the kitchen sink. The title of this scene? Look Inside Yourself. Another scene has the three dressed as monks chanting blasfemous comments. A little girl tells a nun that she wants to be a prostitute. The sister replies "Oh, I thought for a moment that you said you wanted to be a Protestant." Nothing like the wicked humor of the Catholic Church to bring down the house!
At the top of the show the performers define their mission: to save the world through comedy. How do you save a dysfunctional world? The iconic clown Ramboso (Ginsburg) is called upon for his wisdom. He says, "Find your inner clown, go in, get a laugh and get out." Sounds simple and quick, like the strobre light scene. As far as characters go, take Chekhov's plays, considered by many to be tragedies. Nowadays, though, his works are referred to as comedies. Why? Tragedy + time equals comedy. We can look in the mirror and see ourselves in these century-old Russian people; their issues are familiar to us and we can laugh at our plight.
What pleased me the most about The Complete History of Comedy are the three super talented actors Ginsburg, Jacobson and Fazal who make super quick costume changes, become a myriad of characters within split seconds and just by means of the slapstick they present, make us laugh uproariously. Their chemistry together, physical dexterity and comic timing are impeccable. Fazal can also really sing beautifully. She gets one chance to play the ukelele and sings a little ditty that stops the show in the second act. Another treat is the audience participation segment where two audience members come onstage, stand behind microphones and produce sound effects for two of the actors who are utilizing improv to create a storyline. It's great fun...thanks to the energy and consistent brilliance of the trio.
Let's not forget Stephen Gifford's fine work with scenic design and A. Jeffrey Schoenberg's costumes which run the theatrical gammut from A to Z! Prop design plays a big role here thanks to Warren Casey, and Mark McClain Wilson's sound design is AOK.
Even if you turn off a bit to some of the historical banter, like me, you will revel at most of the pretty great comedic creativity brought to fruition by this dynamite cast. Don't miss the show through April 23!