Photos and article by Cullen Humpheys

What do Amerigo Vespucci, throwing babies, the Cold War, and Vaudeville have in common? Nothing wholly appropriate, unless you're seeing Saginaw Valley State University's production of The Complete History of America—Abridged in the Black Box theater.

The show is simple: take the entire history of the good ol' U.S. of A. and cram it all into 90 minutes. Impossible? I think not. Originally written by members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, Adam Long, Reed Martin, and Austin Tichenor, The Complete History of America—Abridged can and will pull laughs, gasps, and stark realizations out of the audience.

"It's a fun-filled romp [from] the creators of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare—Abridged," says director Dr. Steven E. Erickson of SVSU. "It's political incorrectness done correctly." The show not only covers the history of America as promised, but it delves into the state of the nation today. Intolerance, sexism, racism, and political views are shown through a humorous lens, yet the show makes no excuses as to why they are there—to point out the sadly common views and faults of any government and nation. It's a poignant message handled delicately.

The three cast members, Caleb Knutson, Christian Schwager, and Rusty Myers, playing themselves, twist the show into a frenzy of comedy and cross-dressing. Starting off with the National Anthem sung by the trio, the show kicks into high gear immediately. "I've never used so many ten syllable words before," says Myers.

Under the direction of Dr. Erickson, the show takes on an intricate choreography, a manic tango of prop and costume changes. Over 150 props and costume pieces are changed effortlessly from scene to scene, often within seconds of each other, leading into a never-ending feeling of what could be next. Jerry Dennis excels with his set—minimalistic but perfect for the show. A very large American flag fills center stage, bordered by black curtains. Not only is the flag a symbol of patriotism, but as the setting for the show, it becomes a miniature changing room for the actors.

The privacy of the flag is used frequently, as each actor plays multiple roles throughout the show. Knutson plays everything from a minute man to a private eye; Myers is George Washington in one scene, later a spy; and most hilariously, Schwager dons a dress and heels on several occasions. The actors are familiar with the intense performances required in the show—all three are veterans of previous Abridged shows.

The Complete History of America—Abridged is directed by Dr. Steven E. Erickson, stage managed by Mara Berton, set designed and built by Jerry Dennis. Performances run from Tuesday, June 15 through Friday, June 18th at 7:30 p.m. in SVSU's Black Box theatre, located in Curtiss Hall, room 180; an additional limited seating show will take place on July 1st at 7:30. Tickets are $10 for general admission and $7 for seniors (60+) and students. For more information, contact SVSU's box office at 989.964.4261.

© Cullen Humphreys, 2010