LOWELL -- The Bad Boys of Abridgement - also known as the Reduced Shakespeare Company -- are back and better than ever in their latest show, The Complete History of Comedy (abridged), on stage at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre through May 18.
In past productions, they've skewered and satirized such sacred institutions as American history, the great works of literature, the Bible, Shakespeare, sports and Christmas. And they've done it well, complete with zany one-liners, ribald references and pithy puns that elicit equal gasps, groans and guffaws from their audiences.
And in this latest outing, featuring skits and sketches written and directed by RSC's head honchos Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor and performed by Dominic Conti, Michael Faulkner and Jerry Kernion, the boys are at the top of their game and back to their old antics.
As Tichenor said recently, "We were born to reduce comedy. It started with those many misspent hours of our youth watching cartoons, sitcoms, Monty Python and the Three Stooges. It's in our bones. For us, comedy is our religion, the theater is our temple and this is sacred work for us."
This "sacred" work goes from lowbrow to high and includes sketches that tap into rubber chickens and the "chicken crosses the road" joke. There are clever quips on classic comedy --all the way back to cavemen, ancient Greeks, Elizabethan comics, commedia dell'arte and Charlie Chaplin.
And there are boisterous bows to more contemporary, often controversial comedy, including minstrel shows, vaudeville, reality TV and foppish buffoons like Rush Limbaugh and Anthony Weiner.
Equal opportunity offenders, nothing is left unskewered here, from potty talk and dead baby jokes to racial references that may make some folks wince a bit.
But that doesn't stop the boys from quipping on such topics, because, after all, it is part of comedy's complete history.
Among the audience's and my favorites in this non-stop, two-hour laugh fest were Conti's hilarious take on Abraham Lincoln as a stand-up comedian and a riotous Elizabethan remake, featuring Faulkner and Kernion, of the classic Abbott and Costello "Who's on First" skit.
The rambunctious "remounting" of Chekhov plays as the first actual sitcoms was equally clever and proved convincingly true, since, like Friends, those plays are about rich people in nice houses sitting around doing nothing, and like Seinfeld are really about nothing. Conti, in this bit, did a remarkable takeoff on Seinfeld sidekick Kramer, complete with his jerky twitch and oversized pompadour.
Another fun moment came when Faulkner, strumming a ukulele, paid tribute to great comedians, both past and present, in the clever ballad "I Laughed 'Til I Cried."
And that's what you'll do at The Complete History of Comedy (abridged), I promise. Check it out because, as the RSC boys remind us, "Laughter is the best medicine." It's good for what ails you. Yuck, yuck.
The Complete History of Comedy (abridged) plays at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre, 50 East Merrimack St., Lowell, through May 18. Call 978-654-4678 or visit www.mrt.org for tickets
Nancye Tuttle's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.