★★★✩✩ - Satisfying
Las Vegas Little Theatre presents their eighth annual New Works winner “History 101” by James C. Ferguson in their Fischer Black Box. Essentially a sketch show that takes moments from history and turns them into comedic skits, the production tries mightily and manages often to rise above material which has bits that can easily stand alone but that doesn’t carry a thematic thread fleshed out enough to tie them together. While the text has dry, clever wordplay with a “Monty Python” flair, it isn’t crisp enough to quite get there.
Director Jake Staley has assembled an energetic cast of very funny, mostly seasoned performers and focuses on using their strengths and physical abilities to pull out every bit of humor from a script which sometimes feels confining. The timing and pace is polished and comfortable, though there is occasional confusion about the historical significance of scenes. But there is still plenty of fun to be had.
By far the biggest crowd pleaser is a sketch featuring, however profane it may seem, a contemplative Christ at the crucifixion being bothered by a very chatty, obnoxious neighbor. A calm and pensive Deshawn Warr plays Jesus as a straight man to the hyperactive Mike Kimball as the infatuated cross-mate who pushes his patience and humility to the limit.
April Sauline takes a hilarious turn as the bossy, power-suit clad Hillary Clinton who crashes a women’s support group for historical figures with her bodyguards, played by Warr and Casper Collins with just the right amount of self-importance. Anita Bean is a perfectly aristocratic Eleanor Roosevelt, Kimball is a coquettish Marie Antoinette, Kyle Jones plays an indignant religious Queen, and Nancy Gutierrez captures the charm if not quite the spunk of Calamity Jane.
The script has more male than female roles and doesn’t give the immensely talented Bean much opportunity to shine. A bit where she plays one of the Wright Brothers with Gutierrez as the other unfortunately falls flat. In her leather bomber jacket and scarf Bean evokes Amelia Earhart and perhaps a wish that the sketch were about the famous aviatrix instead.
She does play a silly, hippy Oracle of Delphi with Gutierrez as her ditzy secretary in a scene about a befuddled guy, played by Collins, who climbs a mountain seeking the answer to two important questions. Kimball plays a smug Alexander the Great who has his greatness mocked by clueless villagers Sauline, Warr, and Jones as he attempts to conquer them. Warr and Sauline are amusing screenwriter wannabes pitching a metaphorical war to shrewd movie mogul Kimball. And Sauline serves up a crusty, Alice Kramden type housewife cooking up a “pot of universe” for her lazy husband, played by Collins.
The appealing set by Chris Davies creates a nurturing classroom and with primary colored, movable blocks as set pieces hints at a reader’s theatre style theme. Color abounds in Jennifer McKee’s era-spanning costumes and are nicely coordinated for each actor. And the lights and sound of Jonathan Pillen pleasantly fill out and complement the schoolhouse feel of the show.
As far as humorous writing goes, the sketches in “History 101” sometimes miss, though the wonderfully funny cast are decidedly a hit.