Austin Tichenor, Reed Martin and Matt Rippy
in The Complete World of Sports (abridged)
(© Meghan Moore)
Austin Tichenor, Reed Martin and Matt Rippy
in The Complete World of Sports (abridged)
(© Meghan Moore)
The zany three-man circus known as the Reduced Shakespeare Company can achieve the seeming impossible when tackling broad subjects in a ludicrously short time (under two hours). They've taken on the high-brow (Shakespeare) and the theological (the Bible), and have now turned to the history of athletics with The Complete World of Sports (abridged), playing at the New Victory Theatre.

The result is a pell mell mash-up that leaves nary a stone about sports unturned, and the show will leave its audiences enduring the best kind of theater-related injury: aches from hearty, side-splitting laughter.

Writer-directors Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, along with Matt Rippy ply their brand of carnival-like comedy on a cheesy set that brings to mind the ESPN newsroom (backdrop design by Dottie Marshall Englis). Their goal is to cover every sport from the history of the world, including the Olympics. Along the way they also take on fans, announcers, sponsors, players (and their scandals), and even some sidebar topics.

In the latter category is a truly delectable recounting of the "single greatest sports movie of all time" -- which is a composite of every tear-jerker, heart-pulling, underdog-cheering sports film ever made. Similarly, as the company reports on the sporting events of the Elizabethan era, audiences learn that Ophelia "failed her swimming trials."

As for players and scandals, the group manages to get in a nice dig at Michael Vick during the Elizabethan report and, in one of the choicest, randomly inserted non sequiturs of the show, "Tiger Woods Punchline Update," they not only reference the golfer's well-publicized problems, but manage to skewer the ways in which corporations get their brands placed into sportscasts. And when the guys turn to the subject of urine-testing for performance enhancing drugs, the result is hysterical (unless, of course, one happens to be the audience volunteer at that time).

As for the sports themselves, the guys cover the big ones, such as football, baseball, and basketball, as well as jousting, falconry, bear-baiting, and even cheese-rolling. But it's never linear or reverential. The sequence on baseball, for instance, involves, in short order, characters from Star Trek and the Star Wars films. (Yes, even Fantasy Baseball comes to the stage.)

Not all of the show's material scores a perfect 10. There are times when the gags underperform -- such as the moment when "Mary Lou Komaneci" meets "Fidel Castrato" on the balance beam. But the good news in a rapid-fire show like this is that, almost as soon as one has groaned or wondered what has gone wrong, the material inspires a new burst of gut-busting hilarity.

Somehow, in all of the mayhem of the show, the performers manage to not only doff and don appropriately silly costume pieces (designed by Julia Kwitchoff) and wigs, but also impressively maintain certain underlying character traits. Tichenor's a bit of a professor, Martin is the harsh gymteacher, and Rippy's the pretty boy sportsgeek. Each one, endearing in his own way, is nearly impossible for theater fans, even those with no interest in sports, to resist.