Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, July 23, 2001

Mathias Maas, left, as Amy Vespucci, and Dan Kois, as
Amerigo Vespucci, are part of the ensemble cast of
"The Complete History of America (abridged)"
at Manoa Valley Theatre.

‘History’s’ blade is
sharp with political

"The Complete History of the World (abridged)":
Repeats at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 4 p.m. Sundays, through July 29 at Manoa Valley Theatre. Tickets are $22, with discounts for seniors, students, military and patrons under 25. Call 988-6131.

Review by John Berger

Three American soldiers are surrounded by the Germans during World War I. Rescue is impossible. They're on their own. One of the three suggests that they fool the Germans by disguising themselves as the Andrews Sisters.

One of the others doesn't believe the ploy will work because "the Andrews Sisters won't be popular for another 25 years."

"Yes," his buddy replies, "but the Germans don't know that!"

R. Kevin Doyle, Dan Kois and Mathias Maas then strap on bras and some other bits of sequin-spangled material and knock off a kicky rendition of the Andrews Sisters' biggest hit, "Nervous Homophobic Boys of Company A."

And that's the way it is on the Western Front as Manoa Valley Theatre wraps up its 2000-2001 season on a highly irreverent note with "The Complete History of the World (abridged)." Political incorrectness rules in this fast-moving romp through 400 years -- no, 400 centuries -- of American history. Honolulu is probably the better for it.

The opening song-and-dance number is much longer than it needs to be but from that point on, this political comedy is a winner. Doyle, Kois and Mass distinguish themselves with tight-knit ensemble work and strong individual performances. The trio portrays numerous characters and makes many quick costume changes while handling or dodging an assortment of props that include a brightly colored stuffed fish, a magic bullet, a basketful of babies, and a larger-than-life Abraham Lincoln puppet.

Give director Mark Lutwak credit for a great job and light touch as the overseer of a show that is intended to fly in part on the cast's improvisational skills. Doyle couldn't get out of a costume on opening night and deftly incorporated it in the next sketch.

Playwrights Adam Long, Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor likewise display a light touch and razor-sharp wit. Amerigo Vespucci, the American Revolution, the Civil War, World War I, and the Depression provide much of the material. Expect a blend of MAD magazine, the "Fractured Fairy Tales" of Rocky & Bullwinkle, and Monty Python's Flying Circus. The show's most immediate progenitor, though, is "The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged)," which Long wrote with two other partners, and which Honolulu enjoyed courtesy of Honolulu Theatre for Youth in 1996.

The earlier show was one of HTY's best productions of the decade. This one is just as good. The writing is usually sharp even when the content verges on crude.

In short, MVT is gambling with a show that may be too cerebral -- or too impolite -- for Honolulu. First of all, "Complete History" requires a minimal knowledge of American history. Second, keen ears and sharp wits are necessary to catch some of the bits. Words and phrases that are tossed around early in Act I return as punch lines in Act II.

"Complete History" contains no heavy pidgin comedy, although there are a few local references and several plugs for the show's corporate sponsors. One of the characters uses "Mirikitani" as an expletive.

We learn that the letters in the word "American" can also spell the phrase "I can ream" and that "Spiro Agnew" is an anagram for "Grow A Penis," that the minutemen of the American revolution were "better lovers than you might think," and that if America hadn't won World War II "the Germans would own Chrysler and the Japanese would own Hawaii!"

One of the brightest and best segments introduces famed explorers Lewis and Clark as a Vaudeville slapstick comedy act. Kois and Mass perform as the intrepid explorers/entertainers while Doyle provides appropriate sound effects.

Thunder Bread and Lucky Stroke cigarettes are the commercial sponsors as cowboy hero Dodge Rambler takes on the nefarious Hoover Brothers (Herbert and Jedgar) and a mysterious plot called prohibition.

Doyle dominates the final 50 years of the show as hard-boiled film noire private eye Spade Diamond investigates the fate of his brother, Hope, and gets to the bottom of world communism.

Most of this is pretty light and conventional stuff, but be prepared for some uncomfortable moments. Adolf Hitler dares a self-righteous American to justify the internment of Japanese-Americans and the wholesale extermination of Native Americans during the 400 years that followed Columbus' "discovery" of the New World in 1492. And, Franklin Delano Roosevelt tells the American people he can walk, stands up out of his wheelchair, falls to the floor, lies there, and yells, "I'm walking!" FDR's willingness to lie to the American people when it advanced his policies is old news, but it still seems, well, in questionable taste to use his paralysis as the basis of a comic bit.

Even so, the bit that seemed to hit hardest and shock the most people on opening night was a reference to Great American Women Trading Cards -- "Collect all three!"

Oh well. As the show makes clear, parody and satire and almost unlimited freedom of expression is all part of the complete history of America -- abridged or otherwise.

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