'All the Great Books' crams the classics

    o how do you cram over 90 books into a two-hour theatrical charade? By leaving a whole lot out. But who really cares about accuracy if it¹s funny and gets people to the theater, right?

    That¹s exactly what the Reduced Shakespeare Company tries to do with its newest production, “”All the Great Books (abridged),”” which is currently playing at San Diego Repertory Theater. The popular company takes literary or historical classics, such as Shakespeare, and present them in a manner that even fans of the Farrelly Brothers can appreciate.

    In “”All the Great Books (abridged),”” the three-man troupe (Michael Faulkner as Professor, Matthew Croke as Matt, and Jerry Kernion as Coach) attempts to take an absurd number of great titles, ranging from Homer¹s “”The Iliad”” to James Joyce¹s “”Ulysses,”” and shrink them into summaries that are humorously acted (complete with wigs, capes and hoop skirts).

    The audience plays the part of a remedial high school class and the butt of many jokes. In order to earn the credits needed to graduate, the audience receives a syllabus, takes midterm and even receives its “”Reduced Shakespeare Company Diploma.””

    “”This play is not recommended for people who suffer motion sickness, inner ear disorders, or literature degrees,”” the company warns for good reason in the program. Although it is an incredibly funny performance, the show is a complete affront to anyone who has ever taken any of the books listed in the syllabus seriously. While the performers do show respect to the authors and their works, their performances are anything but a faithful retelling.

    It may be amusing to see the complete works of Charles Dickens translated into a five-minute soap opera with the title “”Great Expectorations,”” but the company doesn¹t pay nearly enough credit to Dickens (or other authors for that matter). However some of their skits do work, such as Coach¹s brilliant and enthusiastic explanation of the plot of Louisa May Alcott “”Little Women”” in the form of a football play.

    Several adaptations were extra-commendable, namely the rendition of Homer¹s “”The Odyssey.”” A rather detailed account of Odysseus¹ travels, this portion of the show is nearly the longest adaptation, second only to Leo Tolstoy “”War and Peace.”” While Odysseus flies around sporting a red cape and a blue T-shirt, he tries to extricate himself from the clutches of evil seductresses like Calypso (played by Croke in a lovely black wig and grass skirt), the RSC takes one of history¹s most formidable pieces of literature and makes it fun and approachable.

    The most enjoyable parts, however, were not the well-planned comedic moments but the bursts of improvisation and pop-culture references that interrupted the show. Whether it was by pulling members of the audience onto the stage, spitting on them, or bashing President Bush, the company kept everyone on their toes.

    This is not snobby theater. Instead, it¹s the type of production that can be enjoyed by anyone with a good sense of humor and a quick wit. Just don¹t go in with too much reverence for these works of literature, because they¹ll end up reduced to short jokes.

    “”All The Great Books (abridged)”” is running now through Nov. 23 in the Lyceum Space at Horton Plaza. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets range from $25.50 to $45.50. For information, call (619) 544-1000.

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