If there's one thing that Reed Martin has learned as one of the writers of the Reduced Shakespeare Company's popular "(abridged)" shows, it's that there is no formula.
"I wish it were that easy," he says. "I think we get smarter at it as we go along, though."
By now, they should be pretty smart.
This week, Martin and two other RSC members, Austin Tichenor and Matt Rippy, bring their eighth work, The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged), to McDavid Studio, presented by Performing Arts Fort Worth. It comes about 25 years after the work that put them on the map -- and gave the California-based group its name -- The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), in which all 37 of the Bard's plays make it into one 100-minute show, performed by three actors.
That's the conceit for all of the Reduced shows. Shakespeare, which premiered in 1987, was a hit in England, and earned the company, which has had various members throughout the years, a reputation for Monty Python-esque antics.
In order to gain more recognition in the U.S., the troupe created The Complete History of America (abridged) in 1993, which gives "600 years in 6,000 seconds." That show had a long run at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and set the guys thinking that this could be something they did for a living. Which is what happened.
That was followed by The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged ); Western Civilization: The Complete Musical (abridged); All The Great Books (abridged); Completely Hollywood (abridged); The Complete World of Sports (abridged), which they performed at the Eisemann Center in 2011; and The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged).
The newest work fuses together well-known holiday stories and traditions.
"It's set in a nondenominational Universalist church because we don't believe anything," Martin says.
The show includes references to famous characters and works, such as A Christmas Carol, and works in aspects of a Nativity pageant and a British panto. And in true RSC fashion, there's always a section where it boldly jumps over the line. Here, it's a group of Confederate Christmas Carolers singing White Christmas.
"We like to be equal-opportunity offenders," he says. "There's not too much you can't do; it's the spirit you do it with. The stuff we cut is because we decide it's not very funny."
As with the Bible show, which Amphibian Stage Productions will produce in July 2013, by the way (most of the shows can be licensed for regional productions), there stands to be some controversy with any comedy that deals with religion, especially in the Bible Belt.
"We're not mocking people's faith or religion. We're doing funny versions of Bible stories," Martin says. "With Bible, almost all the people who are offended are the ones who haven't seen it. My dad is a born-again Christian, and he loves it.
"We believe God has a sense of humor because he made people with a sense of humor," he adds. "The only people who are offended are the humor-impaired."