The Complete History of Comedy (abridged)

Written & Directed by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor; Costumes, Skipper Skeoch; Lights, April George; Sound, Joe Walker, Zach Moore; Stage Manager, Bree Sherry; Props, Alli Bostedt, Tim Holtslag, Michael Ross; Puppets, Barbara McFadden, Alli Bostedt; Slides, Barry Martin, Annie Ruygt, Jenn Ruygt; Music, Peter Bufano; Timeline, Reed Martin, Phil Rundle, Austin Tichenor

Featuring: Dominic Conti, Michael Faulkner, Jerry Kernion

Performances through May 18 by The Reduced Shakespeare Company at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, 50 East Merrimack Street, Lowell, MA; Box Office 978-654-4678 or

Why did the chicken cross the road? The Reduced Shakespeare Company never quite gets around to answering that age-old question, but it's unlikely that you'll consider a simple response ever again after experiencing their elaborate deconstruction of the riddle. Written and directed by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, The Complete History of Comedy (abridged) is a master class in the art form performed by the trio of Dominic Conti, Michael Faulkner, and Jerry Kernion. To laugh is to be expected, but to learn is a pleasant surprise.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell is hosting RSC for the sixth time with this production of their ninth stage show which had its world premiere in 2013 at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. Never ones to shy away from ambitious undertakings (after all, they have previously "reduced" the Bible, Western Civilization, and the works of Shakespeare), RSC founders and managing partners Martin and Tichenor show their considerable combined smarts and senses of humor in the script. It is divided into thirteen chapters covering such topics as comedy vocabulary, ethnic jokes, fart jokes, and minstrel shows, and they impart important rules of comedy, such as "the rule of threes" and "show, don't tell."

Conti, Faulkner, and Kernion are worthy surrogates who are totally engaging and seamlessly glide from one sketch to the next. The show is fast-paced, honoring the comedian's axiom, "Get in, get the laugh, and get out." The rapid-fire quips sometimes fall through the cracks, but there's always another one rolling along to crack you up if you miss something. Conti is especially adept at physical humor and he shines as Abe Lincoln doing a stand-up comedy routine. Kernion tries to maintain control of the clicker for a few slide show segments and plays the part of Rambozo, a mythical fount of comedy knowledge. Faulkner reveals a sweet singing voice when he gets the spotlight and accompanies himself on the ukulele for a charming ditty.

The Complete History of Comedy(abridged) includes topnotch technical elements with perfectly synched sound (Joe Walker, Zach Moore) and light (April George) cues, and Peter Bufano is in charge of music. The slides segments, which show pictures of the funniest and unfunniest people, are credited to Barry Martin, Annie Ruygt, and Jenn Ruygt. With a nod to musical theater, Conti, Faulkner, and Kernion manipulate Avenue Q-style puppets designed by Barbara McFadden, and Alli Bostedt provides an authentic-looking Richard Nixon puppet. Bostedt, Tim Holtslag, and Michael Ross supply all the crazy props necessary to flesh out the skits, and Skipper Skeoch comes up with fun costumes that range from bright yellow chicken suits to a bandoleer filled with bananas.

Taking aim at politics and politicians is an indispensable aspect of the comedy artillery and RSC is no exception. Near the end of the show, they attempt to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by having representatives from the opposing sides debate onstage. The only catch is that the combatants must inhale helium from balloons before stating their positions. They don't see eye to eye on much, but they have to agree that it makes them sound pretty ridiculous. If we could send the members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company as ambassadors to the Middle East, it would go a long way towards demonstrating a way to make the world a better, funnier place. And if the parties won't cooperate, there will be cream pies on standby.

Photo credit: Meghan Moore (Jerry Kernion, Michael Faulkner, Dominic Conti)

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