By Lavanya Ramanathan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 18, 2010; WE37
Reduced Shakespeare Company's Austin Tichenor and Reed Martin have built a franchise taming thousands of pages of heady literature into riotous stage shows that the masses want to digest: "Macbeth," "Anna Karenina" and the Bible all have been boiled down by these short-order cooks. ("We try to always get our facts right when we're not getting them wrong on purpose," Tichenor says.)
But for the making of their latest reductive comedy, "Completely Hollywood (abridged)," which opens Tuesday at the Kennedy Center, the pair shelved the books.
Instead of poring over the great texts, they watched every movie they could set their eyes on: "Avatar." "Driving Miss Daisy." "Basic Instinct."
You know, the classics.
As disparate as the films seemed, patterns emerged. "Every new movie in Hollywood is just a combination of two old movies," Martin says. "If you combine 'Home Alone' and 'James Bond,' you get 'Spy Kids.' "
If someone in a film coughs, he's going to die, adds Tichenor, who has lived in Los Angeles for 14 years and has picked up more than a few movie-biz insights. And no matter how groundbreaking "Citizen Kane" and "Apocalypse Now" are, does anyone really want to sit through them anymore?
"The history of movies is a little more involved than people know about," Tichenor says. "People know about what they saw last weekend."
Which is where "Completely Hollywood" and these self-proclaimed "Bad Boys of Abridgement" come in. In the show, the homages to the silver screen (and its cliches) fly; 197 movies (Tichenor calls it "a slightly arbitrary list") get the Reduced treatment. The production clocks in at less than two hours -- shorter than "Love, Actually."
In it, Reed, Tichenor and fellow Reducer Dominic Conti play a trio of screenwriting stooges each vying to have his screenplay turned into a film. But as it turns out, one of those cardinal rules of Hollywood applies: The scripts work better as one hilariously messy amalgam.
In the end, "the plot of our movie is sort of a combination of 'Unforgiven' meets 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' with a ton of 'Sunset Boulevard' thrown in," Tichenor says. "And 'Jerry Maguire.' And 'The Blair Witch Project.' "
Reduced Shakespeare launched nearly 30 years ago with a 20-minute sendup of "Hamlet." But with "Completely Hollywood" the company has signaled that it is moving in a mildly more commercial direction. The writers' newest show, "The Complete World of Sports," required them to listen to a lot of sports talk radio. And on their Web site, they have posted a Reduced take on the first five seasons of "Lost," which meant a whole lot of television watching.
These more blatantly silly shows are, in a way, in their blood. Martin is a trained clown who spent two years with Ringling Brothers. Ask him about his influences, and he'll cite Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Bugs Bunny -- nary a Shakespearean actor makes the list.
Reduced Shakespeare is vaudeville, Tichenor explains, and aims to "satirize theater itself. We satirize the idea that theater is and must be a high falutin', high culture event. We're not high culture at all. We're enormously populist."
"We just have this patina of respectability because we have 'Shakespeare' in our name."
Reduced Shakespeare Company Kennedy Center, Terrace Theater, 200 F St. NW. 202-467-4600. http://www.kennedy-center.org. Tuesday-July 11. $39-$49.