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The ridiculous becomes sublime in 'History'

LOWELL -- They've still got it. Three decades into performing hysterical, if maniacal, consolidations of just about everything -- the works of Shakespeare, the Bible, American history -- the Reduced Shakespeare Company continues to deliver delightful satire at breakneck speed.

This month at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, the company barrels through "The Complete History of America (abridged)," covering more than 500 years of history in about 90 minutes. The touring production kicks off Merrimack's 26th season.

In a timeline that runs from Amerigo Vespucci all the way through John Kerry and George W., three actors rip through vignette after vignette that reveal a decidedly alternative perspective on the history of this country. And there is no sight gag, pun, or innuendo from which members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company shy away. By irreverent design, the jokes land with either a laugh or groan, and sometimes both. George Washington is a stud, Lewis and Clark are a bad comedy duo, and Minutemen are much better lovers than most people think.

Last Wednesday's opener featured Reed Martin, Dominic Conti, and Austin Tichenor as the featured threesome (there are two additional actors who may perform). Martin is the pace setter, Tichenor the intellectual, and Conti the fall guy or fall gal, as the case may be. All three are polished yet are able to leave room for (and occasionally recover from) ad libs.

The first half of "The Complete History of America (abridged)" is a collection of rapidly ricocheting scenes that race through to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The second half features two longer scenes -- a radio show and mock film noir creation -- that push all the way up to the current presidential campaign.

As with many Reduced Shakespeare Company shows, "History" is more entertaining than educational, but still manages to insert insight in its ridiculous retellings. What a country.

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