I MUST ADMIT I'M A LITTLE CONFUSED. I mean, I laughed at Empty Space Theater's production of The Complete History of America (abridged)--I even laughed hysterically once or twice, and so did the rest of the audience. And I guess I had a good time. But I walked away with a vague feeling of dissatisfaction gnawing at my stomach--like having eaten only half of a very good meal, or receiving a business call in the middle of some serious heavy petting. And later, as I tried to recall some of the funnier moments of the show, I found myself unable to do so. For some reason, the play just didn't stick.

The Complete History of America is billed as a "completely unhinged, completely skewed, and completely hilarious" chronology of American events, beginning with Columbus' voyage and leading up to the present state of the union. But what this play really amounts to is a lot of wacky sketch comedy (liberally peppered with penis jokes and men in drag), loosely held together by an American history theme that is sometimes, but not always, the most appropriate vehicle for the comedy.

For instance, the entire second half of the play, chronicling post-WWII events, was told in a surreal film noir style, featuring a Sam Spade-styled detective who maniacally skipped from one historical point of interest to the next like a badly scratched LP. It was entertaining (and included a psychedelic acid trip and a fun motorcycle chase), but the history was entirely secondary to the pratfalls.

Conversely, those portions of the play that dealt directly with historical events were less a witty retelling of old tales than an apologia for a history the writers--Adam Long, Reed Martin, and Austin Tichenor--are obviously embarrassed about. And maybe they should be. But political correctness, even when used ironically, is ultimately a bore, and the p.c.-adapted national anthem and continual references to land grabbing and the subjugation of indigenous peoples became tiresome. Americans are rude, violent, and greedy--we all know it, let's move on!

Maybe I expect too much from Empty Space--and I'm not suggesting you don't see this show. But with such a wealth of information to draw upon, and such a powerfully talented cast--Burton Curtis, Jonathan Hochberg, and Jeffrey Treadwell--I expected more. Maybe in the end American history just isn't that funny, no matter how many dick jokes and drag queens you toss into it.

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