Backstage with ‘The Complete History of America – Abridged’

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(Host) Historians might take umbrage, but a play being presented in Burlington gives the inside scoop on more than 600 years of American history.

VPR’s Neal Charnoff went Backstage with the Vermont Stage Company’s production of “The Complete History of America -Abridged.”

(Charnoff) Most history books don’t tell you that Betsy Ross had a kid sister named Diana. That’s because it’s not true. But historical inaccuracy doesn’t slow down the pace of this play, which shines a new light on the origins of our democracy.

In this scene, several founding fathers ponder the Bill of Rights while partaking in some of Thomas Jefferson’s alternative tobacco crop.

“Madison, how about this for the beginning of our new Bill of Rights: ‘Got a problem? Throw money at it.'”
“No, no, it’s too liberal I think.”
“Here’s what it should be: ‘Whether you’re a brother, or whether you’re a mother, you’re staying alive. Staying Alive!'”
“No, it’s too seventies. “
“Gentlemen, gentlemen, focus. Oh, how about this? ‘All men are created equal. ‘”
“Franklin, are you serious?”
“Does Dolly Madison have any more of those cakes?
“Man, I can’t believe the Bill of Rights is due tomorrow.”

(Charnoff) The Complete History of America Abridged was written by a trio known as The Reduced Shakespeare Company, which previously unleashed the Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged.

Utilizing three actors and a minimalist set, the play combines satire, slapstick and political incorrectness to poke fun at traditional historical interpretation. Actors Alex Smith and John Patrick agree that everyone is a target in this production.

(Smith) “It’s an equal opportunity offending play. They poke fun at everyone, everyone gets their shot in. Ultimately it comes down on the side in favor of the underrepresented, of women, of Indians, people of different race. I think it’s mostly poking fun at the white male version of American history.
(Patrick) “Yeah, it pokes fun at power and establishment.”

(Charnoff) Here, Adolph Hitler and Eva Braun are captured by Super Soldier Rock Fury.

“Ach, my little Shnitzelgruber. What is that noise? It is a bird! It is a plane! Oh, it is a bird.”
“No! It’s Rock Fury, Super G.I.! And your kid dancing days are up little man.”
“But why?”
“I’ll tell you why. I will. In its greed and lust for power, Germany has tried to take over an entire continent.”
“But isn’t that what the U.S. in North America?”
“Oh, wash your mouth out with soap, little lady. Why, the U.S. stopped land grabbing over 40 years ago. And there’s a big difference between our land grabbin’ and yours.”
“What’s that?”
“We succeeded.”

(Charnoff) The Complete History of America Abridged was written in 1994, but Vermont Stage has taken some liberties with updating the script.

The three actors play all the roles in the play, including females. Director Stephan Golux says there is a specific reason for not casting women.

(Golux) “I think that this play is wanting to place itself, or I should say the production is wanting to place itself in a tradition of male humor, in which drag plays a large role. And it goes back to Charlie Chaplin, to Buster Keaton, the Marx Brothers. I mean it’s not the Marx Brothers and Sisters, there’s the Marx Brothers for very specific reasons. It’s an interesting question why drag works well in our society, but it does.”

(Charnoff) Golux adds that in a highly charged election season, audiences will appreciate the play’s silliness.

(Golux) “The culture wars right now are so brutal that putting a little bit of a sense of humor on it can’t do anything other than help.”

(Play excerpt)
“Alright Buckwheat, what’s the bird’s eye lowdown?”
“Not so fast, Diamond. We just got a few questions for ya’. Where was Lucy Ricardo on the night JFK was assassinated?”
“So, Kennedy was dead and they were trying to pin the blame on Lucy. I had to think fast. She was with me.”
“That’s impossible Diamond because we were following you that night.”
“She was with me but she was disguised.”
“So, Lucy was disguised with Diamond.”

For VPR Backstage, I’m Neal Charnoff in Burlington.

The Complete History of America Abridged will be presented at Burlington’s Flynnspace through October 17.

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