For those of us who haven’t had the chance to read all of the world’s greatest literary works, three members of Geneseo’s theatre club Cothurnus have a solution. The group’s performance of the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s “All The Great Books (Abridged)” was on Sept. 19 and Saturday Sept. 20 at the South Hall Quad Amphitheatre. It summarized 83 classic stories in less than two hours. The show, sponsored by the Educational Theatre Workshop, followed a Western literature professor portrayed by senior Taylor Walders attempting to teach a remedial class for students who failed his course. The audience acted as the “students” throughout this interactive show. Alongside the professor was a goofy teaching assistant played by junior Jeremy Jackson and an aggressive physical education teacher played by senior Jacob Stewart.
The performance was extremely dynamic, as it covered many dense works in such a short amount of time. The show covered literary works such as The Iliad and The Odyssey, Don Quixote, Ulysses, Three Musketeers and War and Peace—to name a few.
Each summary varied in length and method of portrayal. One segment that particularly stood out was the summarization of works by Jane Austin, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf. The actors pulled an unsuspecting member from the audience and had him act as the “bachelor” of a dating show, with each actor portraying the authors as “bachelorettes.”
The fast-paced show had characters in constant movement, changing into ridiculous costumes and acting in near-caricatures. The actors’ effortless delivery of such a huge amount of material was extremely impressive. There was even a “midterm” during the intermission, during which everyone had to write down their favorite book, which the actors joked about in the second act.
Walders and Stewart formed the idea after experiencing a student performance of “The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged).” The three students then took it upon themselves to perform “All The Great Works (Abridged),” rehearsing on their own time over the past few weeks.
Jackson said that the show “lends itself to stuff going wrong—it makes us seem almost more silly and fun.” There were moments in the show where it was hard to tell what was rehearsed and what was improv, or spur of the moment, which made it feel even more energetic and lively.
Punctuated with scenes of sword fights, battles and heated arguments between the characters, the show was certainly over the top. The humor was raunchy—at times bordering on bad taste—but it also gave an edgier spin to a script that could have easily been corny.
The jokes were mostly witty plays on words and sophisticated literary quips. That’s what makes the educational theatre workshops so unique: the balance between scholarly and slapstick humor.