“The Complete History of America Abridged”
Presented by Black Box Players
Location Black Box Theatre, 820 E. Genesee Syracuse
When October 21-29
Runtime 60 minutes
Review by Amy Brueckman
“Warning! This show contains: adult language and content, loud noises, use of a strobe light, audience participation, and you may get wet,” read a sign on the entrance door of the Black Box.
The writers of the sign weren’t kidding about any of it (watch out for the squirt gun). While the opening songs like Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” and Bruce Springston’s “Born in the USA” are playing, the cast casually enters to mingle with the audience before they run on stage to start the show.
“The Complete History of America Abridged” tells the story you’d expect. The audience hears of America’s birth and important events that happened in the past, though it’s not like the history books. The story is fast-paced, funny, and involves some current pop culture references alongside the facts.
We learn about the Minutemen (minute’s double entendre, meaning the extremely small men), are sung a politically correct version of the National Anthem, and witness the death of Hitler. We hear about conspiracy theories and recall the high and low points of American history.
Interestingly enough, “The Complete History of America Abridged” doesn’t give any opinions on these issues. The subject of American history can quickly turn into a political critique, but this play generally keeps a subjective viewpoint. At least, it doesn’t try to sway us one way or another.
The characters are your typical school stereotypes, from the jock (Danny Bateman) to the stoner (Milly Millhauser). The suspender-wearing nerd (Robert Axlerod) was the clear crowd favorite. Not only does he have perfect comedic timing and the right amount of exaggerated expressions, but he can do the splits and perform a mean lipsync of the Star Spangled Banner.
Just when you think this is going to be a short play with a couple laughs, the cast bursts out into song and dance. When Miss Bennett (Liz Bennett) isn’t shouting, she plays the piano and sings. The players also dance and rap their historical lessons, using an ample amount of improvisation. The entire the cast proves that they can do so much more than simply act.
The Black Box Players know their space well and make excellent use of it. They run in from side doors, back doors, and from behind the audience, utilizing every inch of their classic schoolroom set. The lighting and sound is involved in the play as much as the actors are.
The hour-long play will make you laugh and won’t beat you over the head with critique America’s actions in the past. The message is hopeful. Just as the play’s final message said, “if you don’t like it, change it!”