The Reduced Shakespeare Company condenses the Bard’s 37 plays into a comic romp of less than two hours.
All of his comedies are covered in one sequence — “Romeo and Juliet” opens the show, “Othello” is a rap song, “Titus Andronicus” is a cooking show, and the kings Richard and Henry are a football game, with “King Lear” tagging along.
“Hamlet” is the longest, and it’s done forward and backward.
It was easy to lump the comedies together, said Austin Tichenor in an interview from New York, where he was writing the latest show, “The Complete World of Sports, Abridged.”
“The comedies aren’t really very funny,” he said. “Shakespeare stole from others, with a shipwreck on an island ( “The Tempest”) and mistaken identities (a number of the plays).”
When the writers got into the repertoire, they discovered that the tragedies and histories had more material for comedy than the comedies did.
Tichenor, Reed Martin and Matt Rippy are the comic trio that will bring the show to San Luis Obispo. They play all the characters of both genders, and each one brings his own style to the antics.
“Reed Martin is the bold enforcer, I’m the bespectacled professor, and Matt Rippy is the manchild,” Tichenor said. He and Martin, who went to college together, have been in the show together since 1992, but the trio changes now and then, and the chemistry changes as the cast does.
“Every actor brings something different,” Tichenor said. “And you want to make it look like you could do real Shakespeare if you had to, and most of us have.”
The Reduced Shakespeare Company, which started in 1981 as a pass-the-hat act playing Renaissance fairs, has also produced reduced versions of the history of America, the Bible, musicals, great books, and Hollywood.
While the main structure of the Shakespeare production remains the same, references change with the times, Tichenor said, updated along with cultural trends and new technology.
“It seems like there is more Shakespeare around the country. The authors did a recent rewrite, so this production is titled ‘The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Abridged, and Revised.’ ”
Although many members of the audience have not read or seen much Shakespeare, they don’t have to know it well to get the jokes.
“It’s interesting how so many quotes are now part of the common vernacular” — such as “to be or not to be,” “all the world’s a stage,” etc. We celebrate Shakespeare, while satirizing the boring way it has been taught,” Tichenor said. “Real Shakespeare people are delighted to see it made fun of as long as we get the facts right — they can tell we know what we’re doing.”
At one moment in the show the silliness stops, he explained, and the lines are repeated seriously.
“After being so irreverent…we and the audience can say, ‘Wow, he really knew what he was doing.’ ”
Tichenor has written or co-written most of the shows. Some have been easier than others.
“Shakespeare and the Bible were kind of easy because they are finite. Others are huge topics with no natural beginning and end.”
Those like “Great Books” and “Hollywood” are harder. “There are so many. We have to ask, what do we like? And what can we make jokes about?”
Do people find the Bible show blasphemous?
“Not theatergoers,” Tichenor said, adding that the people who protest are people who haven’t seen it.
“All of our shows are PG-13. They have innuendo, but we use all kinds of comedy, from high-brow wit to lowbrow slapstick,” he said. “We want to get all ages laughing at once.”