NAPA — I had reason for optimism going into the premiere of “The Complete History of Comedy (Abridged)” at the Napa Valley Playhouse.
Having seen “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” last fall put on by Second Chance Theatre Alliance, I was certain an evening of mirth awaited and was not disappointed.
Writers/directors Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor have produced several “complete . . . abridged” shows including “The Complete History of America (abridged),” and “The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged).” The wit, verve and creativity they manage to squeeze into their productions are a winning formula that is anything but formulaic.
The show was driven by three very talented actors – Dodds Delzell, Dan Saski and Chad Yarish. They played off each other at a frantic pace and each shone individually and as a group.
The wonderful part of these shows is that they entertain as well as educate. They were numerous things that were expounded upon during the course of the show that I did not know; for instance, what an actual slap stick was. At the same time, it is all done very cleverly and woven into the underlying story so it never comes across as heavy-handed.
Basically the show covered everything from what caveman probably chuckled about to explaining and demonstrating concepts and terms associated with the craft of comedy. Topics such as set up and payoff, mimes, standup and even dreaded clowns – dubbed “floppy-shoed servants of evil” – were included.
The stage was simple and props minimal, but there were plenty of lickety-split costume changes. I love the homespun “let’s put on a show where we can” feel of the Napa Valley Playhouse – similar to the Fetterley Playhouse for the Arts in Vallejo. Plus it is easy to find and no farther from Fairfield than Vallejo’s Bay Terrace Theater.
The Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies music that played during the intermission made me smile and was a nice touch.
Everything is covered, including ethnic humor and Helen Keller jokes, and since it is being presented as educating the audience, only someone looking to be offended would be.
I won’t give out too many specific details about the show because I hate spoiling the experience for others, but I do want to give special kudos to Fairfield Civic Theater president Barbara McFadden, who created wonderful, whimsical puppets for a sequence about the Supreme Court. The puppets (with the actors’ help) launched into parody tunes of Motown songs and it was a showstopper.
I also loved the song Yarish sang solo accompanying himself on ukulele. It was in the vein of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire” in that it listed many comedic events and people, but also had the steam of consciousness flavor of Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”
Comedy is subjective and what is funny to someone is a yawner to someone else. One of my favorite parts was when the cast members read what sounded like actual writings from critics who were badmouthing classic comedy bits with pretension and snootiness.
So it is with neither snootiness or pretension ( and definitely no desire to badmouth anyone) that I report that there were parts of the show that elicited belly laughs, parts that were very funny and parts that were supposed to be funny, but the audience did not respond.
Still, the bottom line was that it was a well-written, well-acted and well-directed show that was entertaining and yes, educational.
How can you not go see a show that includes a Shakespearean rendition of “Who’s on First?” as well as a Greek chorus and even has a rubber chicken?
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at firstname.lastname@example.org
Napa Valley Playhouse presents
“The Complete History of Comedy (abridged)”
8 p.m. Friday, Saturday, Thursday and Sept. 13-14
2 p.m. Sunday and Sept. 15
Napa Valley Playhouse
River Park Shopping Center
1637 Imola Avenue, Napa
three stars out of four