KPBS AIRDATE: November 14, 2003
If you need to leaven your life with levity, have I got news for you! Welcome to the San Diego theater, where silliness is having a heyday — in the service of masterworks. Right now, in a theater near you, you can have your ribs tickled and get a taste of the classics at the same time. The La Jolla Playhouse is hosting the London and New York-based Aquila Theatre, with their twisted take on Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors.” And at the San Diego Repertory Theatre, those zany denizens of the Reduced Shakespeare Company are bringing us “All the Great Books (Abridged).”
Thanks to Aquila the Pun, Shakespeare meets Monty Python in New Vaudeville Land. The high-speed, hopped-up “Comedy of Errors” starts with a dumb-show — a very smart one — that gives us, at breakneck speed, all the back-story about the two sets of twins, with identical names and faces, separated years ago and now, unbeknownst to any of them, about to be reunited — but not before they suffer a relentless series of mistaken identity. The seven flexible, versatile players morph into scores of characters, with one chameleon actor miraculously playing each set of twins. It’s rubber-legged, meticulously choreographed and hair-trigger timed. You can’t help but laugh and love it, though it does tend to wear out its welcome after awhile — despite the fact that it’s condensed Shakespeare’s lightweight early effort down to a neck-snapping two hours. Plenty of comedy; no room for errors. With its exotic Turkish locale, outrageous costumes, undulating sets and dazzling talent, the show is wildly imaginative and often equally entertaining. A few too many groin-kicks and breast jokes for my taste. But this is antic-frantic, hyperactive humor for the masses. No heavy thinking required … and none needed for the “Great Books,” either.
The Reduced Shakespeare Company hasn’t even read ’em all themselves; they bring the Cliff Notes right up onstage! This is high school, after all, and we’re the remedial English class that has to take this frenzied cram-course in Western lit. In the final, side-splitting moments, they summarize some 40 tomes in one sentence each. Comic genius to match the masterpieces. The three loonies who create this meshuggah mayhem are vastly talented but certifiable. And very funny, especially when they ad-lib or interact with the audience. Warning: Don’t come late. You won’t get detention, but you will get a serious verbal thrashing. If you’ve seen one Reduced Shakespeare Company show, you’ve seen ’em all. But sometimes, their wit and spontaneity are amazing; the one-liners come fast and furious, the double entendres are head-spinning, and the mishmash of high culture, pop culture and below-the-belt slapshtick is often hard to resist.
If you like your comedy frenetic and feverish, low brow on high themes, there are some theater tickets with your name on ’em.
©2003 Patté Productions Inc.