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Reduced Shakespeare Company Takes On A New Gauntlet

Reduced Shakespeare Company in The Complete World of Sports (abridged)

Written/Directed by ReEd Martin and Austin Tichenor; Featuring ReEd Martin, Matt Rippy, Austin Tichenor; Stage Manager Emily F. McMullen

Performances through October 3 at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, Lowell, MA                   

Box Office 978-654-4MRT (4678) or

For once it is appropriate to mix metaphors of sports and the arts as the Merrimack Repertory Theatre kicks off the new season with the East Coast Premiere of the Reduced Shakespeare Company's The Complete World of Sports (abridged), featuring the original RSC guys ReEd Martin, Austin Tichenor, and Matt Rippy. This fast-paced farcical, physical show is aimed at theatre lovers, sports lovers, theatre haters, sports haters, and even couch potatoes. It will exercise your funny bone, lengthen your laugh lines, and stretch your groan muscles.

Although it may seem counterintuitive to devise a theatrical piece around sports, there have been many wonderful pairings of theatre and the physical arts, such as baseball, boxing, and windmill tilting. Who better to take on this challenge than the Reduced Shakespeare Company with its solid history of abridgement, including The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), The Complete History of America (abridged), and The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged)Like these earlier productions, TCWoS(a) is both entertaining and semi-educational, providing tidbits of world history and geography as it catalogues and categorizes "every sport ever played on every continent in the entire history of the world." [sic]

On a nearly bare stage with a backdrop curtain that resembles a television studio setting, Martin, Tichenor, and Rippy introduce the conceit that they are sports broadcasters who will be reporting from locations around the world about various and sundry sporting events throughout time. They wear matching gray sport coats emblazoned with the RSCSN (Reduced Shakespeare Company Sports Network) logo, athletic shoes and shorts, and kneepads, and brandish long, thin microphone-like objects. The three men alternate as anchor man, reporter, and players of the games, and repeatedly enter and exit through portals in the backdrop. Each time they appear in different garb with appropriate props and interview each other or announce the action that they're engaging in. They speak rapidly and animatedly, employing every sports cliché in the book. They argue over which is more boring, baseball or cricket, and even describe the plots of the greatest sports movies of all time.

The RSC trio wisely gives a nod to the accomplishments of female athletes and to Patsy Mink, a Congresswoman from Hawaii who authored the Title IX Amendment of the Higher Education Act (which resulted in de facto financial leveling of the athletic playing fields in the nation's schools); recites the roster of team names; and creates a fugue as the official fight song of their show, cleverly and harmoniously singing us into halftime, er, intermission. They return in wild plaid outfits and speak with Scottish brogues to deconstruct the game of golf, try to discern the distinction between a game and a sport, and regale us with stirring quotes from famous coaches and players, including many of Yogi Berra's best ("If you come to a fork in the road, take it," "Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical").

Taking a minor detour from the script for a bit of improv, Rippy induces the audience to choose three types of sports from the list of categories to design a so-called "Sport of the Future." The highest vote-getters on opening night were: warfare, sports that go in a circle, and slipping, sliding, and falling. Naming this sport Super Obsequious Death March, he outfits Reed and Tichenor with pinwheel caps and water balloons; they chase each other around for thirty seconds, toss their balloons at Rippy, and game over. I could have done without this rather lame attempt to involve the already engaged audience.

For the grand finale featuring the Olympics, four men are selected from the audience to join RSC on stage and participate in the parade of nations. Supplying them with flags and hats from different countries is actually a cute way to include them in the skit and they seem to enjoy their moment in the spotlight. Reed, Tichenor, and Rippy then "reduce" thirty-two events with too many sight gags to mention or count, culminating in a slow motion race to the finish line and a celebratory partial disrobing (G-rated).

While it is not quite the laugh riot of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), The Complete World of Sports (abridged) is a lively and fun theatrical piece. As the latest in a series of abridgements, it bolsters the notion that the Reduced Shakespeare Company has a corner on this market and can proudly wear the headgear of court jester. Comedy isn't easy, but you'd never know it watching this trio hit it out of the park.

Photo credit: Matt Rippy, Austin Tichenor, ReEd Martin (by Meghan Moore)






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