Uneven might be the best way to describe The Complete History of America (abridged).
The show, which opened last night in the Toledo Repertoire Theatre, compresses 600 years of American history into roughly two hours (plus intermission). It's rude, risqu, and at times sidesplitting. Other times, the material is weak and the stretch for the jokes is too long and too thin.
The show is filled with truths and mistruths and it pokes fun at everything from slavery to religion, from patriotism to the pop culture, from George Washington to George Bush, with jabs at FDR and Bill Clinton as well. Balloon animals, honking horns, crotch-grabbing, accordion-playing, and squirt guns are used to emphasize jokes. (Wear quick-drying clothes if you're sitting in the front rows.)
As Heath Huber says at the beginning of the show, "History was written by the winners. Well, tonight is our turn."
Think of history in terms of Rocky and Bullwinkle and their Fractured Fairy Tales. The founding of Jamestown is told in a rap song. The head of the First Church of Salem leads his witch-hunting congregation in such games as Hangman and Pin the Blame on the Warlocks. Everyone agrees that the National Anthem is out-of-date and not singable, so they offer suggestions for politically correct changes.
Huber is joined in the silliness by Cindy Bilby and Lane Hakel, and there is a real chemistry among the three. Huber and Bilby are often seen on the Rep stage; they played man and wife in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Bilby starred in Spike Heels and Morning's At Seven, among other Rep shows, and Huber's resume includes Fallen Angels and I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change.
Hakel is a relative newcomer to the Rep. He appeared in Moon Over Buffalo and Fat Pig, an EdgyRepReading, last year, and he is active in Bowling Green's Black Swamp Players. The accomplished actor entered into the stage silliness with great aplomb, whether he was wearing a wizard's hat (Salem) a peruke (Lexington and Concord), or a supersized brassiere (World War II; you have to be there).
If some of the jokes fall flat, it's not for the lack of energy the troupe puts into them. It's personal. What might offend one person won't bother another. There were times when the audience was laughing and I was perplexed. Other times, I was laughing out loud in a mostly silent theater.
America is the kind of show that needs a large, involved audience. Laughter will breed more laughter, which in turn will feed the actors' energy levels. I saw America at Thursday's final dress rehearsal with an auditorium that was about a third full, and it still worked.
I'm willing to bet that with large audiences and a few real shows under their belt, the trio will turn The Complete History of America (abridged) into a complete romp.
"The Complete History of America (abridged)" continues in the Toledo Repertoire Theatre, 16 10th St. Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Sept. 22 as well as 8 p.m. Sept. 20 and 2:30 p.m. Sept. 16 and 23. Tickets are $18. Information: 419-243-9277.
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