All The Great Books (abridged)
Written by Reed Martin & Austin Tichenor
Staged by the ensemble
Review by Eli Keel
Entire contents copyright © 2015 by Eli Keel. All rights reserved
In it’s best moments The Alley Theatre’s production of All the Greats Books (abridged), is charming and hilarious. Occasionally it almost manages to teach, and make cogent statements about the books it purports to be covering.
The umpteenth installment in the “Complete ____________ (abridged)” Series from the Reduced Shakespeare Company, following entries such as The Complete American History, and The Complete Word of God, and the first and best, The Complete Works of Shakespeare.
The series follows a trio of teachers who must teach a group of students (the audience) a large amount about a given subject in a small amount of time.
The concept feels worn pretty thin in the latest iteration, but it still has its moments.
The biggest problem with the script is that it requires the audience to be 1) at least passingly familiar with the books and poems, 2) passingly familiar with the pop culture references, and 3) into the zany sort of comedy that would mash these two things up. That leaves a very small slice of the Venn diagram.
Then again, it’s The Alley Theatre. They specialize in that weird little slice of the Venn diagram, so I imagine their audiences will walk away fairly pleased.
The performers are lead by Scott Davis as Coach Scott Davis. He’s done several Abridged shows at the Alley before, and is the most at ease with the format. He’s not acting so much as channeling Scott Davis: the beleaguered, acid tongued cynic, whose gruff exterior hides a heart of gold. It suits the Coach character well.
Of the trio Dale Irwin seems to be the most interested in creating a character. As the resident drama teacher he mines the stereotype of the self absorbs out of touch aesthete. It comes off best in the moments where Irwin manages to play the character and exude a genuine love of the literature in question.
The three some is filled out by Jax Howie as the scruffy student teacher.
There is a script, but the Abridged series is known for including large amounts of improvisation. At times this proved challenging for the performers as a group.
They seem to riff comedically just fine in solo moments, but they weren’t always clicking as a unit. This series works best when the actors are either a seasoned improv group, or very familiar with each other as actors. This group wasn’t there. In the shows least effective moments, you could see Scot Davis slowing down to wait for the less seasoned performers.
There are enough moments that work, but I would definitely recommend waiting till after opening weekend and giving the trio a couple more chances to work out the kinks.
All The Great Books (abridged)
May 7 – 16, 2015
Tickets $15 ($12 for students / seniors / military)
The Alley Theater
615 West Main Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40202
[box_light]Eli Keel is a Louisville based playwright, poet, storyteller, and freelance journalist. He has been published in Word Hotel, his plays have been produced by Theatre  and Finnigan Productions, and he was invited to read his work at the 2014 Writer’s Block. He is a frequent contributor to Insider Louisville, where he has been given the (informal) title of “Chief of the Bureau of Quirk.”[/box_light]