The Complete History of America (Abridged)

What started off as a modest joke is now an extended -- and lame -- gag


Through July 17

Tickets are $13.50


Next Stage, 1620 Gough (at Bush), S.F.

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The Reduced Shakespeare Company started its Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) as a modest joke at a Renaissance Faire more than 20 years ago. The intervening decades have spawned not just TV shows and world tours, but also spinoffs like All the Great Books (Abridged) and Western Civilization: The Complete Musical (Abridged). Such wild success may lead you to think The Complete History of America (Abridged) is very funny. But in the hands of the Free Range Theatre Company -- a local outfit that decided to produce Reduced Shakespeare's script -- the show comes off as a weak idea, or an extended gag with no idea at all. Running through "50,000 years of American history" in under two hours needs more vision than a bunch of actors doing funny things with water pistols. We get a song about Amerigo Vespucci, the mapmaker, set to the Gilligan's Island theme; a radio western that manages to involve both World War II and FDR; a long detour into film noir, featuring a detective who wanders from the 1950s into modern-day Washington, D.C. ("Maternity ward bombings?" the cynical dick says to a cop. "You got the wrong guy. You can't connect me to the baby boom"). The show peaks with a Lewis & Clark skit played as a vaudeville comedy routine, with the explorers in buckskin making lewd jokes about Sacagawea. But those jokes are meant to be lame, and the rest of the performance -- no one seems to have noticed -- is no better.

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