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by MICHAEL BOWEN & r & & r & PLAY REVIEW All the Great Books (abridged) has lowbrow fun with highbrow books & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & t opening night of All the Great Books (abridged) (at Actors Rep through Sept. 8), the crowd was buzzing with intellectual insecurity: Have you read many of these books? No, I haven't read them, either.





You don't need to know the books, people. Relax. Because this is the kind of show that when Poseidon, god of the sea, appears during the Odyssey segment, he shows up in a scuba mask and wearing the cutest little rubber-ducky life preserver.





This show is all quick changes, fright wigs, bad puns, men in drag and sight gags. By ridiculing 86 books that were on all our college syllabuses, it makes us feel better: We never actually finished them anyway. (Because to do that, we would have had to have started them.) Think of Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor's show as the Three Stooges plus literary allusions but minus the sophistication.





As the nerdy Professor, Patrick Treadway delivers one of the evening's comedic gems early on. After inadvertently tearing into bits the literary poem he was about to recite, Treadway has to improvise a mashup of whatever lines from whichever poems pop into his beleaguered little head. After starting, out of desperation, with a reference to a certain man from Nantucket, Treadway jumps from Walt Whitman to Dylan Thomas, from Maya Angelou to the Brothers Gibb. ("Stayin' Alive" is all he's trying to do up there.) As an example of how to act flummoxed, desperate, and out of sorts without really being so, Treadway's fluttery hands and flop sweat are miniature acting lessons in themselves.





Another sequence has grouchy P.E. coach Reed McColm impersonating Sancho Panza as a sidekick who's utterly bored with Treadway's Don Quixote while Carter J. Davis (as the addle-brain Student Teacher) "interprets" their pseudo-Spanish. It's a travesty (in the laudable literary sense).





After Homer the ancient Greek poet gets confused with Homer Simpson -- and his two masterpieces, The Iliad and The Odyssey are merged into The Idiodyssey -- Achilles' lover Patroclus somehow gets transformed into Patro Claus. In a nugget of comedic gold, McColm plays Santa as a grasping pervert.





Whether he's projecting a leering grin while flirting with audience members or getting saucer-eyes when it's clear that his Student Teacher doesn't know the first thing about literary masterpieces, Davis boosts the show's energy level. His rapid-fire one-liner summaries of one book after another brings on a kind of Cliff's Notes crescendo in the climax. The result is a production that's just about as much fun as any I've witnessed at ARt.





& lt;span class= "dropcap " & D & lt;/span & irector Wes Deitrick mostly just directs traffic and gets out of the way of three actors who are, after all, adept enough at comedy and quite capable of gauging just how far their improv can go. But a little more discipline might have been welcome. McColm in particular seemed unsure of his lines; a few cues seemed to lay around on the floor before anyone would pick them up; and some sections dragged (the "inner monologues" in James Joyce's Ulysses, though clever at first; and the constant popping out of doors for the long, drawn-out War and Peace). There were several moments that felt under-rehearsed; on the other hand, the repetition of a three-weekend run will grease the laugh machine.





There's a bit of self-congratulation in shows like this. (That was an allusion to Proust and I caught it. Did you?) But there's also a bit of induced humility: The lives of the great writers were sometimes transcendent, sometimes mundane. They were just regular folks like you and me.





It's fine to feel transported by a frisson of literary splendor, in other words, but it's also OK just to wait for the fart jokes. I just hope I picked up enough during this Great Books survey to do all right on the pop quiz they hand out (literally) at intermission. Because I really, really don't want to wade through all of War and Peace again.





LEADERSHIP CHANGES





The managing director of Actors Repertory Theatre has resigned along with the entire board of directors, suggesting internal tensions as the theater -- now beginning its fourth season -- tries to make necessary improvements upon an already healthy financial situation. Actors Rep envisions acquiring a building of its own (instead of continuing to share theater space with SFCC), thereby allowing for additional and longer-running productions each season.





Grant Smith, who co-founded ARt with artistic director Michael Weaver in 2004, had announced his resignation early this month; his last day on the job was Aug. 24. Two weeks before, the five-member board, citing differences with Weaver, had also resigned.





Weaver is in the process of reconstituting the theater's board this week. He has already named at least three new board members: Julie Curran (the board's new president), Nike Imoru (former UI theater professor and artistic director at Interplayers) and John Hofland (chair of the Gonzaga University theater department).





According to both Weaver and Smith, the two remain on very good terms: "We're still best friends," says Weaver.





Smith says that he has attracted some "very good" employment opportunities and that he intends to remain living in the Spokane area. He will continue as a paid consultant to the theater.





Reed McColm, one of the three actors appearing in All the Great Books, has been hired as interim business manager.


-- MICHAEL BOWEN

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