RSC’s ‘Comedy’ gets the laugh and gets out

Dominic Conti as stand-up comic Abe Lincoln in the Reduced Shakespeare Company's "The Complete History of Humor (abridged)."

Dominic Conti as stand-up comic Abe Lincoln in the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s “The Complete History of Humor (abridged).”

LOWELL — You knew they’d get this one right. After skewering and slicing-and-dicing such topics  as the Bible and Christmas, the Reduced Shakespeare Company found a topic that was right in its wheelhouse: humor. The company’s sixth partnership with the Merrimack Repertory Theatre — “The Complete History of Comedy (abridged)” — is a madcap, breakneck-speed two hours. Audacious, often outrageous and bawdy, the frantic pacing of “Comedy” reminds you of an old-time burlesque or vaudeville revue. Not all of it works, but you’ll already be laughing at the next line before you realize you didn’t like the one before. Didn’t like that one, eh? How about this one? In this instance, the duo of writers/directors Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor , the founders of the RSC, have handed over their material to actors Dominic Conti, Michael Faulkner, and Jerry Kernion, and have even mixed in in some local and regional references to give the show more spice Conti is a lean, loose-limbed type adept at physical humor — especially slapstick — and for some of his bits, think “The Three Stooges” on steroids. The joke, of course, starts with the title. There is a plot of sorts, involving the San Francisco library, a character named Rambozo (Kernion), and the ancient Chinese Book of Comedy, which actually encompasses 13 books. They have the 12 books of comedy in hand, and run through each in turn with a different topic, from Chapter 13 somehow got lost long the way. The plot, such as it is, is a vehicle that at times threaten to get in the way of the slapstick, comedia dell’arte, fart jokes, mime, Jewish comics, Seinfeld, the value of straight men, and a variation on Abbott and Costello’s classic bit ”Who’s on First?” There’s even various comedy-related “Top 10” lists — funniest, unfunniest, best duos, etc. — that eventually go hilariously awry. Along the way you’ll also encounter Conti as Abe Lincoln doing-standup, a Supreme Court stacked with singing jurists who look suspiciously like the Muppets, a Chekovian-flavored “Seinfeld,” a musical tribute to comedy by Faulkner on the ukulele, and so forth. The late, great Bennett Cerf and I both agree that the highest form of wit is a pun, and the boys are very “punny,” indeed. Many of them will have you groaning. By the way, the mysterious 13th Book of Comedy is finally located, and to distill it in its simplest form, it‘s “get in, get the laugh, and get out.” Mission accomplished, boys. The Merrimack Repertory Theatre production of the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s “The Complete History of Comedy (abridged).” Written and directed by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor. At the Nancy L. Donahue Theatre through May 18. http://www.mrt.org.

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