No matter how much trouble you may have had getting through high school English class, it pales in comparison to how uncomfortable sitting through “All The Great Books (Abridged)” turns out to be. That wasn’t the intention of playwrights Reed Martin, Austin Tichenor and their co-conspirators from The Reduced Shakespeare CompanyBut sorry to say, the Actors’ Theatre of Columbus production isn’t All That Great.
Two of the delights of the RSC’s most successful comedy, “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged),” were its deliberately slow descent into chaos and its one moment of complete seriousness, as unexpected as it was moving. With “Great Books,” all we get is chaos.
The funniest part also happens to be the part that most approaches the serious: the one-sentence summaries of everything from George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” (“Don’t trust the pigs”) to Betty Friedan’s “Feminine Mystique” (“Don’t trust the pigs”).In this passage late in Act Two, hyperactive tudent eacher Danny Turek delivers each punchline with dead-on inflection and timing.
One might expect Professor Edwyn Williams to be the calming voice of reason but he’s constantly in battle with Turek. When Coach James Harper finally gets to summarize Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” in spite of the Williams-Turek bickering, he’s forced to paraphrase “Dr. Strangelove:” “This is a war. Stop fighting.”
Teaching the literary pillars of Western civilization is certainly ripe for parody, but “Best Books” turns it all into nothing more than loose canon fodder.