There’s no doubt that the folks at Amphibian Stage Productions know how to have fun (their parties are legendary, we hear), but even when the plays they pick aren’t completely successful dramatically, they’re usually capital-T-with-the-British-ending “Theatre.” Even the comedies are smart and/or dark.
So it’s nice to see them getting their silly on. And you can’t get much sillier than a selection from the canon of the three writers/performers collectively known as the Reduced Shakespeare Company: Adam Long, Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor. Those guys created a hit with their much-performed The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), and then followed that with a series of comic works in which a large body of something is condensed, parodied and loaded with the fun-having.
They’ve done great books, the wide world of sports, Hollywood, Western civilization and Christmas (performed at McDavid Studio last year). Amphibian chose to do the one that might cause the most stir in the buckle or first notch or whatever part of the Bible Belt we’re in: The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged). (Maybe we’re the embossed letters in Western font on the back of the belt?)
Three actors with impeccable timing and physical comedy prowess — Luke Longacre, Brandon J. Murphy and Scott Zenreich — perform highlights from the Old and New Testaments, mentioning almost every book in both, even the ones in the O.T. after Isaiah — Lamentations through Malachi. The two seconds each devoted to Job and Acts are priceless. In the N.T., after the Crucifixion, it mostly skims over the letters until the big musical finale of Revelations, in which they, as Def Leppard might say, “Armageddon It.”
They make it clear that the play’s intent is not to make fun of any religion or deity (best to offend everyone), although if you’re a part of the extreme Christian Right, you’ll want to avoid it. There’s even a line about fundamentalists’ lack of a sense of humor.
As with all RSC shows, there are many groaner jokes (presented exactly as that) and puns aplenty, along with a gaggle of sight gags. This is one of RSC’s older shows, so updates to current references are important. At Amphibian, the cast and director Jay Duffer have worked in the recent Paula Deen scandal and even the Wendy Davis filibuster.
Some of the funnier sections in this retelling of “the greatest story ever accepted as fact” include the “begat” section; the Tower of Babel as a soap opera/telenovela; the bit about telling Elijah/Elisha and the Marys and Johns apart; and anything involving a baby (Abraham/Isaac, Solomon, Mary/Joseph). It’s smart of Duffer to cast against type in many cases, such as Longacre, the sturdy, bald guy, being David rather than Goliath. The rubber-faced Zenreich often gets female duty, most hilariously as Salome.
Here’s the thing — even when the ’Phibs are being silly (prepare ye for a flood of audience participation), the show looks like a million shekels, thanks to Sean Urbantke’s set of stone walls with pop-open windows and doors; and Emilee Kyle’s costumes that intentionally look like they came from a low-budget production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Also, props to Cosmo Jones for his creative, well, props.
Even with the talented performers and the production’s praise-worthiness, The Bible is the kind of fluff that’s hard to sustain for nearly two hours. Praises be that there are enough big laughs to get you through it.