Reduced Shakespeare’s hysterical comedy history at Miller Symphony Hall
It all started at a Renaissance fair.
“Daniel Singer was a Renaissance fair geek in 1981 in North California, and he thought it would be fun to put on a 20-minute abridged performance of Hamlet,” Austin Tichenor, Reduced Shakespeare Company co-writer and co-director, explains in a phone interview.
“It was all very fast and physical, much like our shows today. They did this for love, youthful passion and a lacking of showers for extended periods of time. Luckily, I joined shortly after this time period.”
Now, 35 years later, the Reduced Shakespeare Company, having grown in both size and absurdity, is putting on the play they feel they were born to perform: “The Complete History of Comedy, Abridged,” with a stop at 8 p.m. March 19, Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown.
“It has the plot that most of our plays do. Three idiots think they can reduce this huge topic into a brief performance, and I think there’s a charm to these guys trying something impossible and not knowing it’s impossible,” Tichenor says.
In this particular work, however, the company members are reading from the ancient text known as “The Art of Comedy,” written by Achu, the brother of Sun Tzu, the war general who wrote “The Art of War.” Upon realizing that a chapter of the book is missing, not only are the three protagonists learning from the book, but they are on a quest to complete it so that the teachings may be passed on to others.
The set pieces and stage will be minimalistic, meant more so to accentuate the jokes and ideas at hand rather than being show-stoppers in and of themselves. And considering the energy and enthusiasm of the individuals who will be on stage, all eyes will be focused on them regardless.
The actors are the two co-writers and directors, Austin Tichenor and Reed Martin, and performer Dominic Conti, each well-versed in the theater, as their acting will no doubt display.
A variety of influences will be recognizable throughout the play, from classic nods to the Greek comedies and the Shakespearean clowns of old to the modern-day cartoon violence of “The Simpsons” or “South Park.”
“Comedy is so subjective, but physical comedy, in many ways, is universal. You don’t have to understand the language to laugh at someone falling on their own face. And watching the big and powerful fall can be both funny and impactful,” Tichenor muses.
As the aforementioned influences may suggest, the play will broach a few touchy subjects. “There’s nothing that can’t be laughed at,” says Tichenor. “Sometimes, people will say, ‘You can’t make a joke about that.’ and I’ll say, ‘What is sensitive?’ The problem is not the joke. It’s the thing that’s so scary. Comedy gives us power over things that are scary. So we need to joke about those things that much more.”
The Reduced Shakespeare Company hopes audiences explore and learn from the fast-paced comedy they perform. Their one request is “[h]ave fun, and if you laugh, laugh loudly. This is the theater. You are here, and we want to know you’re here with us.”
Tickets: Miller Symphony Hall Box Office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; allentownsymphony.org; 610-432-6715