Reduced Shakespeare Company laff riot continues at the Folger

The madcap world premiere run of the Reduced Shakespeare company’s new show featuring the Bard's "undiscovered first play" wraps May 8 at the Folger Theatre.

The Reduced Shakespeare Company (l to r: Austin Tichenor, Teddy Spencer, Reed Martin) on stage as the Weird Sisters in Shakespeare’s William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged). World premiere at Folger Theatre. (Photo by Teresa Wood)

WASHINGTON, April 29, 2016 – The wild and crazy guys of the Reduced Shakespeare Company (RSC) continue to make mincemeat of the Folger Theatre’s venerable mini-Globe performance space. They’re currently in town regaling audiences with the world premiere run of their latest Shakespearian travesty entitled “William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged).

Similar to one of their early pioneering shows that featured pretty much all of Shakespeare’s plays (abridged) in a single evening, RSC’s insane trio of actors/improve comics claim to be staging the “long-lost” first-ever playwrighting effort by the Bard that was “discovered” lying untouched in a hole in the ground—perhaps a bit similar to the way the remains of the much-maligned Richard III were recently found beneath an asphalt parking lot.

Cleopatra (Austin Tichenor, left) falls in love with Bottom the ass (Reed Martin) in the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s "William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged)" at Folger Theatre. (Photo by Teresa Wood)
Cleopatra (Austin Tichenor, left) falls in love with Bottom the ass (Reed Martin) in the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s “William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged)” at Folger Theatre. (Photo by Teresa Wood)

It turns out that Richard, along with a motley crew of additional Shakespearean characters populated this ur-drama, which, as it turns out, is a First Folio-sized tome that unites all of them in an amateurish, indecipherable plot. We eventually come to understand that it was out of this mess that all the real Will Shakespeare were carved.

Ridiculous? Perhaps only marginally in our current age of bizarre literally scholarship. More to the point, that “newly discovered” manuscript provides a launching point for an insane evening of comic theater in which our three players—Reed Martin, Austin Tichenor and Teddy Martin—lay on enough Shakespeare-style Plautine comedy to kill an ox with laughter.

Better yet, the premiere performance took place on April 23, 2016, the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s lamentable death. (And, according to at least some, his birthday as well. Maybe.)

We first saw an RDC production many, many years ago at the Reston Community Center in one of their earlier abridged Shakespeare shows that cracked up audiences as much as this one does. They’ve since graduated to bigger shows on different topics and in bigger and more prominent venues, even including a gig on PBS.

It’s been a remarkable journey, but perhaps unsurprising. As PC types in this country continue to trash Western culture, this trio has delighted audiences for years by creating presenting shows heavily based on Shakespeare and English history.

But theirs is an antic yet oddly reverent approach that mixes buckets of accurate Shakespeare quotes with bogus ones; puts past and current history in a blender to demonstrate that people are still ridiculous; and, as if to emphasize the latter point, mixes in plenty of Three Stooges-style slapstick to emphasize the point. In the midst of the current production’s gender-bending, history-morphing action, there’s always room for another pratfall or dueling squirt guns just in case things get too quiet for a millisecond.

It’s clear that these guys love Shakespeare. But they also realize that the Bard was yet another top-notch entertainer who knew he needed to please all kinds of theater goers if his company was going to make a profit.

RSC’s current production blends—and confuses—numerous Shakespearian characters with others, most of them in plays and historical periods where they’d never meet. Dromio gets confused with Romeo, Richard III grows and ungrows his hump, the “weird sisters” from “Macbeth” invade turf unknown to the Thane of Cawdor, and Puck and Ariel chase each other to and fro, each trying to out-prank the other.

The insanity, the in jokes, and the occasional contemporary political jokes—not unknown in Shakespeare’s time either—will appeal even to theater goers not much familiar with the Bard. But for those who are really into Shakespeare’s plays—like both the RSC guys and much of the Folger’s regular audience—even more comedy is buried within layers upon layers of allusions, puns, and famous lines twisted into entirely different meanings.

This is a show that’s perfect for the entire family, albeit a family that’s mature enough to endure some R-rated gags and allusions, literary and otherwise. Compared to “Game of Thrones,” however, this material is pretty mild and even comes across with a sense of playful innocence.

In other words, if you’re anxious for members of your family to get at least a sampling of the kind of literary culture and fun that’s no longer taught in our schools, or if you simply want an antic introduction to Shakespeare and his works for yourself and a significant other, the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s latest show, now at the Folger, will be the easiest and most enjoyable evening of theater you’re likely to spend in 2016.

Rating: **** (4 our of 4 stars)

The Reduced Shakespeare Company’s “William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play,” written and directed by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor and performed by the authors and fellow actor-comic Teddy Martin, continues at the Folger Theatre through May 8, 2016.

Tickets and information:

The Folger Theatre is located in the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 E. Capitol St. SE, Washington, DC 20003. Tickets range from $35-75. To purchase tickets, click this link.

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