Sports are Simplified by the Reduced Shakespeare Company
Mention sports in Washington to a sports fan and nobody laughs.
After all: The Washington Redskins' Dan Snyder sues the City Paper, Donovan McNabb is benched, no playoffs yet again and wait, there’s a lockout of millionaires. There may yet be an NFL season. Sigh.
After all: The Washington Capitals, the best hockey team, and the best Russians never to make it out of the second round of the playoffs. Sigh.
The Washington Nationals, where being a game under even is a major accomplishment, a team that has Jayson Werth who gets millions for batting .216. Sigh.
The Washington Wizards, who may never make the playoffs in my lifetime—admittedly a modest goal.
The men’s soccer team which had a 0-0 tie in its last game, I think. What a thrill.
The Reduced Shakespeare Company and “The Complete World of Sports.”
Now that’s funny.
You’ve got a few days (till January 24) to see the radically funny comedy troupe’s take on the wide, wide, and even wider world of sports from cave man's earliest tug of wars to naked wrestling in ancient Greece, to the origin of curling and the burning question of why bowling is a sport—among the hundreds of subjects, countries, centuries and box scores tackled by the current RSC troupe and trope of three.
If you go, be prepared to run on stage and participate in the parade of nations, or just participate. Audience participation is one of the hallmarks of the RSC—doesn’t that have the same initials as the Royal Shakespeare Company with the word Shakespeare?—and wacky irreverence, slapdash and sometimes slapstick comedy, and a willingness to tackle any subject no matter how small, how large how endless.
They are very good at reducing just about anything. Eric Cantor, are you listening? Reducing. Anything. No matter how large. Can they, is it possible that they could reduce the national debt?
Maybe not. But they could make it funny?
“We go back a ways,” Reed Martin, one of the earliest members (he cam aboard in 1989) said. “It’s kind of strange. Wherever we go, we’re sort of famous. We have this built-in audience, built, over the years, and yet, we’re not, I don’t know, famous-famous."
But what they do have is a phenom, and it’s gone, if not exactly viral, pretty huge. Several troupes tour with the RSC brand and shows, their works are collected in book form, and they’ve been all over the world.
Martin, in a way, is characteristic of the troupe and its history: he’s been a real clown (is there such a being?) with Ringling Brothers, he’s been a sports referee and he is what he is here, the bald one, who lends a certain intense, zany seriousness.
There is also his long-time partner in time and crime, Austin Tichenor, who looks a little like Will Ferrell, only funnier (sue me, SNL fans). He has that puzzled look of a lawyer in over his head, wondering why he didn’t join a comedy troupe
Last, and perhaps least but probably not is Matt Rippy, the kid, who looks like a kid, as opposed to the adult family men Martin and Tichenor. He is oddly enough, also the webmaster for the group, acts in movies and, according to his bio, is studiously avoiding adulthood and so far succeeding.
The whole thing started with Daniel Singer, Jess Borgeson and Adam Long, the troupe founders who used to work their way, hat in hand, at Renaissance Pleasure Fairs in California, which were quite heady festivals back in the day. But they put together a show called “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) followed quickly by “The Complete History of America” and “The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged),” which surfaced at Fringe Festivals, (what a nice coincidence) and then ran for nine years at the Criterion Theatre in Piccadilly Circus.
All three have done improve, movies, television, voice over and a touch of standup. “I think all the credit in the world should go to our wives, our families,” Tichinor said. “They don’t get to so see us so much when we’re on the road.”
“People laugh no matter where we go,” Martin says. “We’re fresh, irreverent, whatever, naughty, there’s nothing we don’t make fun of but it’s not, like we dis what people value. You might think in the South where people take their Bible seriously something might happen, but it really didn’t. Noah in Baton Rouge, a little."
“It’s hard work, sure,” Tichenor says. “But we get to play in great places. We come back here (to the Kennedy Center), all of the time. People get us. Maybe a little too much. The local sports radio people talked this up on their shows and a whole bunch of people showed up one night, they booed, they yelled, they argued, it got kind of lively. We loved it.”
So how do they pick people to bring on stage?“There’s two kinds of folks—there’s people who have that pick-me, pick-me look on their face and you have to pry them offstage, or there’s people with their head down, or they get that fear look on their face. We don’t pick them.”
In this town, the Nationals, love of ‘em or don’t ever go, are the team of the national past-time, which is baseball. Which is:
“Boring,” Rippy says. “That’s the funny part. You know, every time we mention baseball, one of us faints dead away.”
“One of the things about this is that every night, everywhere is different,” Martin said. “When you add the audience participation, it’s not just the people in the audience, but all three of us get surprised every time.”
Even when there’s boos on a Michael Vick joke.
“Too soon?” one of them asks.
Baseball has been very good to them. So has Shakespeare, the United States of America, God, the Bible, Hollywood—a lampooning of 187 of the best movies of all time, sports in general and coming to a theater near you soon, maybe in December:
“Christmas,” Martin says. “We’re going to do Christmas.”
The abridged version, which means you don’t have to unwrap the presents.
(“The Reduced Shakespeare Company in “The Complete World of Sports” will be at Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater until June 24.)
Now they’re funny.