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Theater Review: “The Complete History of Theatre (abridged)”

Steve Smith, Tom Steward, Hilary Scarlett White, John Tessmer in "The Complete History of Theatre (abridged)"
Photo credit:
Dave Chapple

Remember that “Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” show that roasts all the Bard’s plays in 90 minutes?

There’s a new one on the boards. Local actor/director Matt Thompson has put his hand to “The Complete History Of Theatre (abridged)”, now in its world premiere through June 26 at the Point Loma Playhouse, where Thompson has recently been named artistic director and playwright-in-residence.

This is a 90-minute play in two acts (that’s problem one) presided over by theatrical legends William Shakespeare (played by Tom Steward, Sarah Bernhardt (Hilary White) and Constantine Stanislavsky (of method acting fame, played by John Tessmer). That’s problem two.

The first act provides mildly amusing banter among the three about things like acting process (“What process? Just act!” says Will), the fourth wall, and bringing the Bard up to date on other cultural advancements (if that’s the word) like television (though it’s unlikely that either of the other two had seen one either). The Bard apparently has dementia setting in (hey, he’d be 452 years old). Anyway, he can’t even remember his own stuff (e.g. “Beware the idea of March!” “All the globe’s a stage!”)

That bit gets old pretty quickly, but hilarity is restored when a dramaturg appears and Bill hears “dramaturd,” grabs his cell phone and asks “Suri” what that is, getting the response: “A dramaturd is a production of a play where you leave the theatre and wish you had two or more hours of your life back.” I’ll bet we’ve all been there more than once.

They run (almost literally) through Greek and Roman theater and then take an unnecessary intermission (though the cast may well need it).

The second act is stronger, and includes a list of theatrical terms with often hilarious definitions, e.g. “Brechtian production: Any theatrical production that could not afford a set.”

But by far the best bit is their run-through of playwrights and their plays, like William Inge: “Want to stay for a picnic?” “Gotta catch a bus.”

Or August Wilson: “I’m tired of building fences.” “Then come inside for your piano lesson.”

Wait for the Sondheim roundup, and the Rodgers and Hammerstein set.

Thompson clearly loves theater, and that comes through loud and clear. The cast is game (and likely exhausted after each show).

This new shows promise but needs some work. I’m not sure including Stanislavsky and Bernhardt was a great idea; neither name means a whole lot to people in this century. How about using a narrator and a couple of people on the stage crew for illustration? After all, “stage crew” is defined as “People that are bored backstage except for thirty-second bursts of absolute panic.”

The details

“The Complete History of Theatre (abridged)” plays through June 26, 2016 at the Point Loma Playhouse, 3035 Talbot Street in Point Loma.

Wednesday through Saturday at 8 pm.; Sunday at 2 pm

Tickets: pointlomaplayhouse.com