Total Rating: 
October 6, 2017
October 29, 2017
In Tandem Theater Company
Theater Type: 
Tenth Street Theater
Theater Address: 
628 North Tenth Street
Running Time: 
90 min
Reed Martin & Austin Tichenor
Chris Fleiller

Milwaukee’s In Tandem Theatre creates a sequel of sorts to its 2008 hit comedy, All the Great Books (Abridged). The paper-thin plot rests on the fact that many high school seniors (represented by the audience) have flunked Western Literature and need to retake the exam. According to the gym coach, the English teacher died during a stampede at a book signing. Inexplicably, it falls to the coach, a drama teacher and student aide to give the audience a crash course on the 89 great books of Western literature. Oh, and the reason it will only take 90 minutes is because graduation is only a couple of hours away.

In the current production, the script and director remain the same as in 2008, with Doug Jarecki as an extremely credible gym teacher. Newcomers are Ryan Schabach as the “dramatic” theater teacher, and Chris Goode as a wiseacre student teacher. The director is veteran Chris Flieller, the company’s artistic director.

Since Goode is so much closer to the students’ age than the other two academics, he reacts predictably by staging a long-running prank on the gym teacher and basically adopting a slacker attitude. He can be surprising, though. The older men are astonished when Goode summarizes the plot and philosophy of some of the books, indicating a lot more intelligence than the coach and drama teacher give him credit for.

That’s one of many twists in this gag-packed comedy, which is guaranteed to tickle the funny bones of everyone who refuses to take Great Western Literature seriously. Chris Flieller works his magic in making dozens of transitions throughout the show appear seamless.

All the Great Books (Abridged) is the brainchild of the Reduced Shakespeare Company. Its various plays, including 2002’s Great Books, have been performed nationwide and in various foreign countries.

Lest one imagine that this piece of theatrical schtick is any substitute for actually reading the books themselves, then you are in for a let-down. Many of the 89 books are reduced to a couple of words or a phrase. “Animal Farm,” for instance, is represented by Schabach wearing a pig’s nose and saying, “Four legs good, two legs bad.” The books that get the most expanded treatment are Homer’s The Iliad and Ulysses, and the works of Dickens. Their sections often lack the one-liners that make some of the other dialogue so hilarious.

The most spot-on piece is Goode’s impersonation of Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden.” After Goode spends a few moments listening to nature sounds and casting a fishing pole into a “pond,” Schabach presents a more “lively” version of Walden (as if written by Ernest Hemingway). He sits on the same “tree log” (a library footstool) used by Goode. “Hemingway” has a hefty nip from his flask before attempting to fish. With some help from the other characters, the short-tempered Hemingway whips out a rifle and blows the fish right out of the water.

The action takes place on a cartoonish set design by Rick Graham. However, the set also features a pretty impressive piece of gym equipment as Jareck winches up a real basketball hoop in the “cafenogymnatorium” where the entire play takes place.

Catarina Erba, the sole member of the backstage crew, earns appreciation for her efforts to get all the props and costumes on the right actors at the right time. It’s no wonder she gets to bow at the final curtain. She has earned it.

adult & sexual themes
Doug Jarecki (Coach), Ryan Schabach (Drama Professor); Chris Goode (Student Teacher).
Set: Rick Graham; Costumes: Kathy Smith; Lighting: Pat Smith; Sound: Jonathon Leubner.
Anne Siegel
Date Reviewed: 
October 2017