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Review – ‘All the Great Books (Abridged)’ at Santa Rosa Junior College

“All the Great Books (Abridged)” is a frivolously comic attempt to cover a lengthy syllabus of classic literature in a matter of hours. Set in a high school, the lecture is led by a random assortment of faculty members—the gym coach, drama professor, and an enthusiastic student teacher, who is more interested in the“Lord of the Rings” films than deciphering “War & Peace.” Their hapless attempts to inform the audience involve slapstick skits and a plethora of costumes and props. If you sit in the front row, be prepared for buckets of water tossed around, and the occasional flying wig.

Buckle in for Charles Dickens as a soap opera, “Little Women” described by the gym teacher as a professional sports team, and Dante Alighieri passed over with “this genius wrote a comedy and left out all the jokes!” Nothing is sacred in this silly rendition of otherwise monumental works.

In between the whirlwind of hopping sea captains (Long John Silver vs Captain Ahab) and over-the-top puppets, Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor have included thought-provoking discussions. The practice of book banning is brought up, along with racially charged literature such as “Huckleberry Finn.” Should it be read in the original disrespectful language to show how horrifying that era was, or is it better to permanently set aside books that are filled with the disturbing opinions of their time?

Coach (Alexx Valdez) is the heart of this production, refusing to let challenges like Tolstoy dampen his perseverance. When the spirited ensemble gets out of hand, it is Coach who hustles them back into order. Jasmine Flores-Nunez(Student Teacher) would benefit from a microphone, to avoid the appearance of constantly shouting, but her one-sentence summaries of major works are irresistibly clever. The confusing novel“Ulysses” comes alive with shenanigans from Christopher Shayota and his feisty inner monologue.

Musical cues are an integral component of the play’s humor. When the Trojan Horse sashayed its way onstage to the theme of “The Pink Panther” the entire audience burst out laughing with appreciation. Andrew Moore’s lighting design of a serene brook in the ongoing riff of Henry David Thoreau’s“Walden” was a marvelous source of amusement.

This interactive, madcap comedy may not be perfect, and it wanders occasionally into politics, but it is a memorable evening of entertainment. Join the boisterous ensemble for a reckless joyride into classic literature.

All the Great Books (Abridged)

Tickets: $18 general, $14 seniors/students, $12 children

Newman Auditorium in the Emeritus Hall Elliott Avenue on the Santa Rosa Campus 1501 Mendocino Avenue, Santa Rosa, CA 95401 (707) 527-4307

Photos by Jeff Thomas.

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