To paraphrase an old saying, or equation rather, comedy = time + distance. Meaning that anything is funny that once was considered serious if enough time has passed and the person subjected to the humor isn’t too personally close to the material. It’s where the joke question, “Too soon?” comes from.
For instance: “Besides that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?”
The Reduced Shakespeare Company, founded by Adam Long, Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, cut their teeth on generally inoffensive subjects. Primarily Shakespeare, with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged). Their schtick is simple. Hilariously compress an otherwise large collection of information. And unless you’re the Texas Board of Education watching RSC’s treatment of U.S. History, it’s tough to get offended.
That is until they decided to take on God’s book in The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged), unapologetically summarized by Amphibian Stage Productions.
The premise is fairly straightforward: Present the books of the Bible in chronological order. Of course, with 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 books in the New Testament, it’s easy to imagine that two hours just isn’t enough time. And this is where it gets funny.
Naturally, some books and specific stories get more time than others. The second half is almost completely comprised of the Gospels. And it’s all presented via funny sketches, humorous dialogue, songs, and audience participation.
Playing the roles of the Reduced Shakespeare guys in this production are Luke Longacre, Brandon J. Murphy and Scott Zenriech.
Now, the actual RSC guys have a very specific type of humor, ranging to the goofy. But the great thing about their work is that it easily adapts to its casts individual comic sensibilities. Considering this, the combo of Longacre, Murphy and Zenreich, who possess a wonderfully natural chemistry, stick close to the goofy origins of the piece with just a wink of dryness, particularly provided by Longacre, the glue and hilarious straight man of the piece, if it’s even possible to have a straight man in this show.
Murphy and Zenreich also really deliver on the goof factor; Murphy with his Buster Keaton-like physicality and Zenreich with his little-man earnestness and forced femininity.
The crew does their part too. Sean Urbantke’s set is a simple, yet versatile medieval cathedral piece. Emilee Kyle’s intentionally simplistic costumes add to the funny. And likewise with Cosmo Jones’ props. A solid all around team, on and off stage, compiled by director Jay Duffer.
In honor of the premise of the show, briefly, it’s damned funny. Damned maybe being a key word there.
For once again, this subject is one that’s liable to cause some to bristle at its treatment of the Bible. But, this is where it’s important to emphasize that the show is about the Bible, not Christianity, or Judaism, or Islam—or any religion. They even go out of their way to clarify that.
And this is the point. The Bible is a book comprised of writings that are thousands of years old. And the form in which we know it today wasn’t finalized until hundreds of years after the death of Christ, decided on by humans. So, even if taken literally, there’s plenty of humor to be found within its hallowed pages. And with the time element of comedy equation being in the thousands of years, there’s a legitimate argument that sometimes it’s good to laugh at something that we otherwise take seriously. The fact that it sucks to be Job, or that Song of Solomon is all about sex, or that Revelation is like the most absurdly crazy science fiction fantasy movie ever imagined.
That said, a lot of the comedy simply comes from the hilarity in trying to cover 66 books in two hours.
But the true power of this piece, as is a common theme with RSC, is the credo to never take oneself too seriously. And it’s easy not to with this show. Bible is a hilarious adventure into the quirks and conundrums of America’s, arguably, most sacred text.
And considering just how heated culture can still get today over moralistic questions and debates—as seen just recently in our own State Capitol—Amphibian gives local Texans a refreshingly brief respite here in the giant studded buckle of the belt that gets its name from the book so lovingly explored here.
So belly up to the pew and get ready for the most hilariously raucous church service you’re likely to see.
◊ Below is a series of promo videos produced by the Amphibian crew. Each cast member talks about his favorite Bible story.
Brandon J. Murphy: