Summertime is a perennial black hole for mainstream sports in the United States, with only baseball, golf, tennis, and the occasional Olympics or World Cup to distract from the doldrums of daily life. The Reduced Shakespeare Company knows this, and has proposed a novel solution: cram every sport known to man into a The Complete World of Sports (Abridged), a snappy comic romp that lampoons human competition from prehistoric times to the present day.
RSC company members Reed Martin, Austin Tichenor, and Matt Rippy tear into their heady task with childlike glee, jumping randomly throughout time and space until they have covered the entire history of sport, or at least their bizarre version thereof.
A single 10 minute slice of the show may involve a mock interview with an Antarctic “survivalist”, a childish joke about Scottish Hurling, and a riotous reenactment of an Australian rugby scrum. The RSC’s rapid fire style translates well to this long form parody of the sports media’s ADD, sound-bite approach to news coverage.
The show gets off to a slow start, as the trio attempt to explain the method to their madness and establish a proper rhythm for the subsequent action. Midway through the first act, however, they brush away the cobwebs and find their groove. Tichenor serves as the fast talking brains of the group, while Martin brings his boundless energy to the role of the manic clown. Rippy rounds out the trio as the good natured schlub. While Tichenor and Rippy each deliver comedy in spades, Martin steals the show with his googly-eyed antics. He darts about the stage like a modern day Caliban, calling upon all of his natural charisma and the showmanship skills gleaned from his years with the Ringling Bros/Barnum and Bailey Circus.
No strangers to the world of abridgment, the three cast members exhibit an easy chemistry that proves vital to the show’s success. Martin and Tichenor have been condensing vast subjects, including the Bible, American History, and Wagner’s Ring Cycle, into entertaining, bite sized works with the RSC for two decades. While not a founding member himself, Rippy has been palling around with the RSC since 1996. This seasoned group’s comfort level and clearly defined roles serve them well whether they are cracking terrible puns, singing in three part harmony, or riffing with the audience to pull them out of a temporary lull.
The visual design serves as only a light garnish for the manic action. A SportsCenter-esque backdrop frames the spare stage, and three spotlights constitute the full extent of the lighting tricks. Due to their constant action, the cast members can only manage partial costume changes, layered on top of their base sports jerseys. Ultimately, the simplicity proves a virtue rather than a hindrance, as any more elaborate scheme might disrupt or fatally slow the comic business.
The Complete World of Sports (Abridged) was a particular nostalgic treat for me. At the tender age of 11, I had the privilege of taking in RSC’s founding work, The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged), in London’s West End. I was delighted by the fusion of highbrow and lowbrow humor informed by an obvious affection for the subject matter.
I am relieved to see that while the cast may have changed, RSC’s signature style and quality have endured and flourished in this new production. As they’ve done across the US and around the world, the likeable chaps of the Reduced Shakespeare Company should win over DC sports fans and theater fans alike with their clever writing, fluid tag-team style, and irrepressible charm.
The Complete World of Sports (Abridged) runs thru July 24, 2011 in the Terrace Theater of the Kennedy Center, 2700 F Street NW, Washington, DC.
The Complete World of Sports (Abridged)
Written & Directed by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor
Produced by Reduced Shakespeare Company at the Kennedy Center
Reviewed by Ben Demers
Running time: 1 ½ hours (with one 15 minute intermission)