Professor Seale (Eric Ryan Seale) looks on as Coach (Kody Kiser) foists his monster edition of War and Peace on the student teacher (Zack Hightower) in Studio Players' production of All the Great Books (abridged). Copyrighted LexGo photo by Rich Copley.
One of the standard pieces of advice about putting together a rock band is to find people you enjoy being around, whether or not they are great musicians.
An energy will emerge from the camaraderie that will tie everything together.
The same could be said for casting one of the (abridged) plays by the Reduced Shakespeare Company.
While Lexington productions of The Complete History of America (abridged) and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) have certainly featured some of Lexington’s finer actors, what made them work was the unified spirit of the cast all-in-it-together to convey a tremendous amount of information in as funny a way as possible.
The cast of Studio Player’s production of All the Great Books (abridged) certainly has a lot of information to convey -- 86 books to be exact. The idea of the show is that the three men are teaching a remedial literature class of students that have to familiarize themselves with the tomes in one-hour-and-45-minutes, or they don’t graduate.
The thing is, these aren’t the best or best-matched teachers for this course.
■ You have Coach, played by Kody Kiser, who comes across as a stereotypical macho football coach. But he also has an unsuspected love for literature, predictably War and Peace and unpredictably Little Women, which he maps out for us like diagraming a play in a game, complete with references to the New York Yankees and steroids.
■ Then there’s professor Seale, played by Eric Ryan Seale, a drama teacher who does not know nearly as much about literature as he should.
■ Finally we have Zach, played by Zack Hightower, a student teacher who probably knows as much about the books as the flunk outs in the class. At his entrance, he says he’s been reading The Lord of the Rings and marvels, “They made a book from the movie!”
Using the drama teacher’s resources, they stage a lot of the material in bits such as a quick distillation of five Charles Dickens novels, including a surprising revelation about Scrooge and Marley, and a rendition of War and Peace that attempts to prove it truly encompasses all literature and concludes on page 10 million or something. Seale has a particularly hilarious turn doing a poetry review that mixes great literary poetry with lyrics and titles of 1970s AM radio hits.
Seale, a veteran of last summer’s production of Shakespeare (abridged) for Balagula theater and a similarly irreverent Oberon in last fall’s production of Shakespeare in Hollywood at Studio, is the most comfortable and at ease in this material. He is at once thoroughly convincing as the pretentious professor and other characters such as a finger-snapping, hip hop George Eliot.
Kiser and Hightower are also perfectly cast as the coach and the goofball, Hightower’s long blonde locks flying around his face during one of several adolescent fits.
The (abridged) format requires the players to be able to shift character and mood instantly, and director Bob Singleton has his actors gliding through those gears and even coasting through a few spots where an information overload made them blank on a line or two.
The trio's best moment is an interpretation of Miguel de Cervantes Don Quixote with Seale and Kiser playing the title character and Sancho in Spanish with Hightower interpreting, sometimes quite liberally.
The trio has a great rhythm which, like a solid rock band, goes a long way toward making the show work.