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Giving American history the bluff
June 30, 2011 Lisa Betz   

Read more by Lisa Betz

Bell Island, left, and Chris Work put a humorous spin on Lewis and Clark in The Complete History of America, Abridged. The show continues through Saturday at WNCC's Little Theatre

Comedy has an important role to play during difficult times. Throughout theatre history, comedic theatre has been a salve to the masses. While theatre has lost a great deal of its cultural influence, it preserves the power to alter one's perspective and attitude.

For this reason, Theatre West struck the perfect chord in its decision to produce The Complete History of America, Abridged. We could all use a good laugh about now.

Saturday night's performance of The Complete History of America, Abridged, had the audience laughing hysterically, stony-faced at times and occasionally wishing they'd chosen seats in the back row, but we'll get to that later.

One never knows what to expect from the script as the three performers, Chris Work, Justin J. Lane and Bell Island take the audience through 50 thousand years of American history in two hours, with a 15-minute intermission. That's right, 50 thousand years of American history. If that doesn't give a clue about the tone of this play, then this production is not for you.

If, however, you can take a few doses of truth, delivered gently and with sense of humor, some ribald jokes, hysterical pokes at your favorite and less-than-favorite (depending upon your persuasion) politicians, then this play is a great opportunity to unwind, relax and forget about the day's cares.

One of the early lines in the play, "History is written by the winners" is well-taken as an introduction to the presentation of "facts" throughout the play.

Some of the harder truths about America's past are there, but quickly glossed over by schtick that ensures the fog will once again settle over the truths we choose to ignore about our glorious beginnings as a country.

Chris Work's performance of a poem turned rap about the Jamestown Colony is one such moment, packed with regrettable truths but finishing with a joke and poke and on we go to happier historical tales.

Director, Parker Reed, along with the actors, has devised clever staging that jacks up the fun. This is especially true of their portrayal of "the shot heard 'round the world" and the re-enactment of the recruitment of "the Minute Men."

The play is full of silliness, peppered very lightly with truths that can either strike a chord or be ignored. Fortunately, most of the “history” in this play is treated irreverently so as to completely strip away the possibility of taking offense, and yet, this reviewer found it a challenge to listen to some the segments about Native Americans.

Nothing is sacred in this play. No one is immune from ridicule, except it seems, President Obama. Perhaps the reason for this is the date the script was printed, (January of 2007) or perhaps that topic is just too fresh for us to laugh about, since some jokes did include references to more recent personalities on America’s political stage.

Theatre has the power to make us squirm in our seats, laugh with abandon and walk away with a few ideas to consider. The Complete History of America, Abridged, did just that on Saturday. If you go, the best seats are further back in the house. If you like to be close, wear something …well, just plan for anything. One thing is guaranteed, you will enjoy a good laugh.

The Complete History of America, Abridged continues at Western Nebraska Community College's Little Theatre through this weekend. Show times are Wed-Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $17; with discounted tickets for seniors, $16 and students $7. Patrons are encouraged to arrive early if purchasing tickets at the door, to ensure that the play will begin on time. The final production of the Theatre West season is the musical “All Shook Up” which is scheduled to open on July 20.
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