Playwright: Reed Martin, Austin Tichenor and Adam Long with extras from Matthew Croke and Dominic Conti. At: Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted. Phone: 312-988-9000; $43-$48. Runs through: Dec. 2
I surely hope the producers of the Reduced Shakespeare Company's ( RSC's ) Royal George Theatre engagement have heavily advertised at Chicago's college campuses. College-age audiences are certainly the target audiences who would most enjoy the RSC's irreverent double bill of The Bible: The Complete Word of God ( abridged ) and Completely Hollywood ( abridged ) .
I say this because I was able to catch the RSC on tour back around 2000 for The Complete Millennium Musical ( abridged ) for a one-night-only college town performance. The packed house of more than a thousand college kids ate up all the irreverent slashing and burning of history into glib punchlines. They also hooted and hollered at the nonsensical editing that emphasized lesser historical figures like former first lady Mamie Eisenhower over others.
Unfortunately, the Chicago audiences I encountered at the RSC repertory shows abbreviating the odder aspects of Judeo-Christian Biblical stories and silver-screen stereotypes didn't react with the same kind of rock-star reverence the college crowd offered up. With so many comedy options in Chicago, the RSC doesn't have the captive crowds it would have as the only game in town on tour.
Despite the diminished crowd response, the RSC still shows it knows how to slice and dice great works into manageable comedy portions. Best known for its bowdlerization of the Bard in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare ( abridged ) , the RSC authors/directors/performers Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor continue the trend with the newer Hollywood and the repertory staple Bible.
The Bible is the better of the two shows and is the most universal ( since you don't have to worry if you've missed one of the more than 175 films the troupe mentions or spoofs outright ) . Completely Hollywood also shows the strain of searching for another franchise property to reduce.
Still, there's lots of fun gags as the opening -eek performing trio of Martin ( the bald one ) , Tichenor ( the frizzy-haired one ) and former Chicagoan Dominic Conti ( the who looks like an elongated blond Martin Short ) each blends Hollywood genres ( a costume drama version of Charlie's Angels ) or titles ( Taxi Driver Driving Miss Daisy ) . They also have a knack for exposing film conventions that we don't think twice about ( like any character who coughs on screen will inevitably kick the bucket ) .
The Bible has better gags, ranging from re-enacting Noah's Ark ( with audience participation ) to depicting Samson and Gabriel's battles as a professional wrestling bout. There's also a clearly defined journey to beat the clock instead of a nebulous history of film to make The Bible more tidy and compact at wrapping everything up.
Both RSC shows are fun, though there's something lacking without a pumped-up audience roaring back at every juvenile jab at revered works of art and faith. Perhaps the next time RSC plays Chicago, it could find a non-murderous way to reduce the comic competition to guarantee packed houses.