When it comes to the Reduced Shakespeare Company, they have heavenly hilarity in the bag. In fact, they have been keeping audiences in stitches since the ‘80s with their “complete works” series, which crosses a variety of topics. “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged),” “The Complete History of America (Abridged),” “The Complete Millennium Musical (Abridged)” … it’s really never-ending. Perhaps one of their most popular, “The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged),” will be landing on North Front Theatre’s stage this week, thanks to Panache Theatrical Productions.
Anthony Lawson, Randy Davis and Jamey Stone are taking the reins and codirecting each other as they act out numerous characters portrayed throughout the 66 books featured in the top-selling read of all time. Whether taking on God’s first man and woman or the fiery brimstone of the apocalypse, it’s all done with irreverence that Lawson assures will have everyone, religious or not, entertained, not besmirched.
“It’s really a celebration of a book, not an attack on its fans,” Lawson clarifies of the third of the population that follows Christianity. “It’s a comical take and not meant to criticize or belittle followers. People who are very familiar with the Bible will laugh; people who aren’t will laugh and maybe learn something.”
Lawson helped found Panache with Holli Saperstein a few years ago. A well-known actor, writer and director on the ILM theatre scene, it will be Lawson’s last year in town—and therefore one of his last plays. He has been trying to get “The Bible … (Abridged)” onstage for years now, along with his costar Davis.
“We convinced Jamey to join us and had a blast spitballing ideas,” Lawson tells. “Holli has graciously stepped in during tech week to make sure the staging is up to Panache standards. She’s helping us find the funny we can’t see from the stage.”
While abridged shows seem to be a hit or miss at times—mainly because the content can be vast and the dialogue fast and quippy—Lawson praises “The Bible” as the tightest outside of the company’s original “Shakespeare … (Abridged).” More so, it has helped strengthen his craft as an actor.
“You have to be three steps ahead while knowing the lines for where you are,” he tells. “So there’s no time to second guess what scene is next.”
We asked the actors a few questions about the upcoming show—and, well, let’s just say they’re already nailing the comedy bits down pat.
encore (e): So have you guys performed the show before?
Jamey Stone (JS): I can’t even believe I’m performing it now.
Randy Davis (RD): I produced the show in 2006 in Thalian’s black box. I have been lugging around the majority of the costumes and props across four states and six moves, waiting for the chance to do it again.
e: What are you learning from the show?
Anthony Lawson (AL): Let’s just say the world is pointless.
JS: I’m learning so much about the New Testament. My people really only read the first book in the series and gave up after that.
e: Who is/are your fave character(s)?
AL: I love playing Anthony Lawson. He’s a more innocent (dumb) version of myself. I rarely get to play the dumb guys. Jaded, creepy, angry? Yes. Dumb? No so much.
JS: Getting to be the unseen voice of God in a few scenes is fun because I get people to perform outrageous and sometime seemingly random acts of faith without question—something we so seldom get to see in real life.
RD: There are so many, and most are so fast, it’s hard to have a favorite. I do enjoy Jonah though—all three seconds of him.
e: What’s the most difficult aspect you’ve had to overcome here?
AL: Not laughing when I’m not supposed to. I’m sharing the stage with two of the funniest guys in Wilmington and keeping a straight face is an act of … well, you know.
RD: We are just now at the point where we can make it though the show without laughing at the script itself. OK, we’re almost there. Now, if only Jamey and Anthony weren’t so hilarious. Don’t get me wrong; it’s great for everyone else. We are the only ones that have to keep a straight face.
e: Why do this show now? What makes it relevant in 2018?
JS: Why not? Any source material is funny, if you approach it the right way. We take ourselves way too seriously as a society and it’s OK to remind people that it’s OK to have some fun with our core belief systems once in a while.
AL: This show is always relevant.
e: What have you found most challenging here, in a craft-building way?
JS: Jumping from character to character and costume to costume within seconds of each other. Oh, and not hanging up my costumes between scenes.
RD: I find the Noah section the most craft-building. That sounds like a bad joke. And it is, but it’s true. Pulling people out of the audience is always a crap shoot with ever-changing odds. So is shooting them with water guns.
e: So there is audience interaction?
RD: There is no fourth wall. We are three (slightly more ridiculous) versions of ourselves and we are taking the audience on a madcap ride with us as we try to perform the whole Bible in under two hours. We are constantly talking to the audience. There is one part where we pull people onstage—and the water guns are mostly used on each other.