I love it when the Reduced Shakespeare Company comes to town. Their humor runs the gamut from simple puns and wordplay to sophisticated laughs that require a bit of intellect. The last time I saw them was a couple of years ago at the Edison Theatre on the campus of Washington University. I didn't see the main members that time, but this time the heavy artillery was broken out and Reed Martin, Austin Tichenor and Matt Rippy, all original contributors (Daniel Singer is the actual founding member), made the trip to our fair city. Once again they played the Edison (December 7-8) and, this time, took on the holiday season with The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged). The production was a pure delight from start to finish.
The idea is that St. Everybody's Non-Denominational Universalist Church is putting on their annual Multicultural Interfaith Holiday Variety Show and Christmas Pageant. However, the weather outside is frightful, postponing any of the act's arrivals and jeopardizing the very presentation itself. But, in true show business fashion the show must go on, so the three of them decide to do their best to approximate the bits that each act was scheduled to perform. Naturally, hilarity ensues.
It would give away too many of the jokes to list out all the amusing twists that the Reduced Shakespeare Company put forth in their effort to replace an entire evening's entertainment with themselves. Suffice to say, there are several moments that truly stand out that I'll mention instead. One of my early favorites found Austin Tichenor leading the Confederate Christmas Carolers, who really mean it when they sing about dreaming of a white Christmas. They'd prefer an all Caucasian one, and the lyrics reflect their racist attitude. Another bit of tomfoolery finds Matt Rippy singing the praises of Mrs. Santa Claus while strumming an acoustic guitar to a Bo Diddley-esque rhythm (with Martin and Tichenor as backup singers). And, as the first half comes to a close they even offer up a gift exchange, which found audience members purchasing items to place under the tree so that they could take one of the many gifts the boys placed there for them. If you didn't like your choice you were advised to duke it out in the parking lot after the show in true "Black Friday" fashion.
The second half of the show was full of even more inspired madness, with the highlight being an audience singalong on "The Twelve Days of Christmas", only this time the boys and the audience devised their own, more practical list of items to sing about. Lots of holiday traditions were taken on, but none as inventively as the Nativity itself. This was performed as a genuine English panto, and featured Reed Martin as the Virgin Mary, which was truly a sight to behold. It was one of the longest sketches and brimmed with amusing insights and sight gags.
Anytime the Reduced Shakespeare Company comes to town it's a treat, and this occasion was no exception. If you didn't catch them this time around, you missed a very funny show. But, don't despair, they're bound to come back to St. Louis some time in the near future with one of their many "abridged" concoctions.