You don’t insult baseball in this town anymore.
The three-man Reduced Shakespeare Company was roundly booed at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater on Wednesday night when one of them (Austin Tichenor) groused that the national pastime is boring. The kerfuffle not only meant that the Nats have upbeat fans who go to the theater, but that the RSC’s sarcastic “The Complete World of Sports (abridged)” was going great.
In case you’re not wise to the RSC’s act by now, it’s a three-man circus that crams impossibly broad topics into rapid-fire frat-boy comedy. Shakespeare? All the works in just two hours. Same with the Bible, Great Books, American history, Hollywood and now sports.
The set is a chintzy ESPN “SportsCenter” knockoff, and the guys — the professorial Tichenor, young beanpole Matt Rippy and bald drill-sergeant ringleader Reed Martin — act like they’ve digested more than their fair share of highlights. They lampoon announcers, jocks and the cliches every fan endures while watching games and reports on the tube. But these actors know their backs are against the wall, so they perform like there’s no tomorrow and give it 110 percent, to use some of the phrases they anatomize in a sketch featuring an exasperated coach and literal-minded student “ath-a-letes.”
They also dash from topic to topic with their usual pell-mell speed. The goal is to cover tons of history and geography and loads of games and sports. (Golf: Game or sport? The men debate in outrageous Scottish accents while wearing idiotic golf togs.) Making haste, the performers poke at everything from rugby to cheese rolling, never scrutinizing a topic for very long. There was more football in the RSC’s Shakespeare takedown, when the men transferred the historical plays to the gridiron.
But this is street theater played indoors, which is why the clowns keep things moving. Tearing through time, they alight in the Elizabethan era for bearbaiting — you know, dogs attacking tied-up bears for public amusement — which begets a Michael Vick punch line. (“Too soon?” Tichenor asks as the crowd groans.) The racism of certain team names is hotly debated (yes, Redskins — handy, in part, because Rippy’s in a Clinton Portis jersey). Bob Costas is mocked. Yogi Berra is quoted and still gets great laughs.
Martin and Tichenor, who have been at this for decades, wrote and directed the show with their usual lack of shame. Puns and slapstick rule, and a few audience members are recruited for what is called the “Olymp-ish Games,” which leads to a fabulous bit on drug testing. The performers have an intuitive rapport with the crowd, landing jokes in flurries and looking guilty when they know they’re pushing their luck. Nobody stretches material thinner than these guys do, but the pacing and timing are crackerjack. It’s hard not to grin all night, so give ’em a medal: Who’s gonna beat their time in a comic sprint?
written and directed by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor. Costumes, Julia Kwitchoff; sound design, Zach Moore, Jason Weber and Joe Winkler. About two hours. Through July 24 at the Kennedy Center. Call 202-467-4600 or visit www.kennedy-center.org.