Henry Ford reportedly once said of history that it is "more or less bunk." He would have undoubtedly admired Madison Theatre Guild's production of The Complete History of America (abridged) for proving his point.
The giddily resourceful three-man cast of David Gerard Miller, Chaz Ingraham and Andrew Valdez-Cody, each playing dozens of characters, hurl themselves into the roaring flames of American history. The script, which has the feel of an extended exercise in improvisation and is in desperate need of editing, is by the Reduced Shakespeare Company's Adam Long, Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, all of whom are obviously great fans of Jim Abrahams and Jerry and David Zucker. Just like those purveyors of cinematic comedy chestnuts like Airplane! and the Naked Gun series, this trio bombards the audience with an unceasing barrage of one-liners, some of which find their mark with a satisfying smack, while others hit the ground with an embarrassing thud.
In choosing to lampoon the (relatively short) history of these here United States, the play explores and explodes some of the myths that have shaped (as one character says) the "gosh-darn persnicketiness" of the American psyche. The script and the performances often combine beautifully to hold up a comically cracked mirror for us to reflect on our collective past.
There is, for instance, a hilarious episode when Lewis and Clark, fresh from their exploration of the continent, return as the worst pair of vaudeville comedians you have ever seen. Ingraham and Valdez-Cody are superb in this routine, exploiting their contrasting physical attributes to maximum comic effect.
But the second act, in particular, lacks cohesion, and the writers back away from their subject just when their cynicism should have been at its sharpest. The unfocused film-noir depiction of America's 20th-century political adventurism is particularly disappointing, although the thought-provoking ending goes a long way to redressing the balance. The actors work their tails off, often rising above the material through sheer determination, as Americans always have throughout their mottled history. Bunk? At times. But gosh-darn persnickety? You bet!