note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth
Writers-directors-performers Austin Tichenor and Reed Martin teamed up years ago to form the Reduced Shakespeare Company, which has nothing to do with Shakespeare but reduces several worldly topics in madcap abridged shows.
The duo, who live in California, have expansive experience globally, from their humble beginnings in 1981 as a pass-the-hat act in the Golden State, to writing and performing for radio, television, and in such prestigious trappings as the White House, Kennedy and Lincoln centers. They have also performed in international and national colleges and universities, and in major venues in Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Japan, Malta, Belgium, the Netherlands, Singapore, Bermuda, winning several awards.
The zany duo capitalize on their individual strengths in their shows that appear improvisational and are highly interactive with the audience.
Reed also uses his skills as a former clown with the Ringling Brothers/Barnum & Bailey Circus. Tichenor has appeared as a recurring and guest actor in several popular TV series. Together, these “bad boys of abridgement” created a series of comical shows: “Completely Hollywood (abridged),” “The Complete History of America (abridged),” “The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged),” and now “The Complete World of Sports (abridged),” making its East Coast premiere at Merrimack Repertory Theatre before sprinting on a national tour.
In 1996, Tichenor and Martin wisely recruited handsome young actor, Matt Rippy, who races through this skewed history of sports, from Neanderthal man to today. They have a checklist of nine categories and significant sports played on every continent and discuss whether sports, such as golf, are games or sports.
Before the play begins, the audience is thrust into the spirit of the play, with ushers wearing Massachusetts team jerseys. The stage boasts a RSCSN (Reduced Shakespeare Company Sports Network) logos and speaker stands. Rip-roaring piped-in music, such as “We Will Rock You,” whistles, buzzers, blaring announcements about several sports and more assail theatergoers.
As the trio runs on stage, wearing typical sports announcers’ garb - jackets, shirts and ties- they pull the speakers’ podiums away, revealing their team shorts and red sneakers. They glibly glide through their spiel, checking off the Eagle Tribune Sports Tracker, while commenting, for instance, on how watching baseball is boring. “The most exciting thing is when nothing happens - a no-hitter,” Tichenor cracks. How about this one - “NASCAR is the acronym for Non-Athletic Sports Created Around Rednecks?”
They fast-track through eras and several sports, changing hats, garb, and wacky props. Their quips fly as fast as their changes, with each comedy routine and spoof funnier than the previous. There’s Irish curling and Spanish bullfighting, gladiator games, Antarctic sports of sorts, Australian sports, where they wear down undies (groan), the Cuban sport of waterboarding (oops), a Maya ball game, where sudden death is precisely that. Bear Bryant attempts to give a pep talk to his team of English majors, and there’s a rundown on outstanding female athletes.
The trio also recruits assistants from the audience to help with their Olympic Torch Parade and sports, which is hysterical.
You don’t have to be a sports fan to enjoy “The Complete World of Sports (abridged)”. It’s audience-interactive, family-friendly fun for all ages.
BOX INFO: Two-act comedy, presented by the Reduced Shakespeare Company, written by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, starring Martin, Tichenor and Matt Rippy, appearing now through October 3 at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre, 50 E. Merrimack St., Lowell. Performances are Wednesday, Thursday, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 4,8 p.m.; Sunday, September 26, at 2,7 p.m.; October 3 at 2 p.m. only. Post-show forums after 7:30 p.m. shows on Thursday, Sept.23,30. Tickets start at $25. Call 978-654-4678 or visit www.MerrimackRep.org.