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)," 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, with zany one-liners, ribald references and puns that elicit equal gasps, groans and guffaws.

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, "For us, comedy is our religion, the theater is our temple and this is sacred work for us."

"Comedy (abridged)" 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 buffoons like Rush Limbaugh and Anthony Weiner.

They're equal opportunity offenders and nothing is left unskewered, 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 best bits in this nonstop, two-hour laugh fest were Conti's hilarious take on Abraham Lincoln as a stand-up comedian and a riotous Elizabethan remake of the Abbott and Costello "Who's on First" skit featuring Faulkner and Kernion.

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," really are 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)," 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 nancyedt@verizon.net.