There's a lot of smoke, a little heat and no light in The Complete History of America (Abridged), a mockumentary that grinds 225 years of U.S. history into a 90-minute sausage of events. Written by the brain trust behind the Reduced Shakespeare Company, History opts for belly laughs, nods and winks rather than genuinely wicked satire or insights. One could argue that the absence of any real examination of American history is a sadly missed opportunity, but the nose tweaking is nice.
The four people responsible for this Six Chairs and a Couple of Artists production—performers Kevin Doyel, Peter Hilton and Trevor Von Hodgkins, and director Shannon Mahoney—do a stellar job with the material. But that material is flawed, fleshing out the European discovery and settlement of America with remarkable cleverness but treating more recent events superficially. (Note to authors: Clinton jokes involving cigars and interns were nearly still-born three years ago.) In the first act, there's an actual—and probing—point: the role of money and power in shaping America that ends with the pantomimed assassination of Abraham Lincoln. There's no similar theme in Act II, which relies on a silly device (the aesthetics of film noir) to explain everything from the Civil War to World War II. It's a wide stretch—too wide and too stretchy.
The three performers have clearly delineated roles: Hilton is the straight man, funny without ever losing control; Doyel is a master of excess; Hodgkins is the fall guy. They manage to make their material, strong or weak, spring to life. That includes rapping colonists, Lewis & Clark vaudevillians, anachronistic Andrews Sisters, slapstick water-gun battles and a thoroughly extraneous Weakest Link send-up that manages to make one of the stupidest pop-cult fads of recent years very, very funny. Expect no more than one part Karl Marx to three parts Groucho Marx, and you'll enjoy the ride.
Six Chairs and a Couple of Actors Theater, 1409 E. Fourth St. Long Beach, (310) 226-7075. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. Through Aug. 12. $8-$10.