Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

The Complete History of Theatre (Abridged)
Point Loma Playhouse
Review by David Dixon | Season Schedule

John Tessmer, Tom Steward, and Hilary White
Photo by David Chapple
Most individuals, including die-hard theatre fans, typically do not think about different periods of drama while watching a live performance. Audiences visiting the recently transformed professional theatre company Point Loma Playhouse will get a crash course on theatrical productions when seeing the world premiere comedy The Complete History of Theatre (Abridged) (the latest from the new organization is influenced by the established touring Reduced Shakespeare Company).

Three hosts attempt to share an overview of everything from Greek tragedy to musicals. William Shakespeare (Tom Steward), revered Russian actor and theatre director Constantine Stanislavsky (John Tessmer), and beloved French actress Sarah Bernhardt (Hilary White) do their best to amuse theatergoers and critics.

Artistic Director Matt Thompson is responsible for writing and staging the story. He splits the show into two distinct halves.

Act one has a go-with-the-flow spirit where the narrative often pauses for theatrical in-jokes and some audience interaction. The fourth wall is broken from the very beginning after the fictitious stage manager (Steve Smith) yells out "places!"

A big twist early on is that William is written and portrayed as a dopey buffoon. Wearing clothes from the Elizabethan era designed by Delilah Sanderville and Kaitlin Williams, the globally beloved playwright misquotes his shows and acts unprofessionally. William is so dim that he calls The Leaning Tower of Pisa the "Leaning Tower of Pizza." Steward gleefully depicts The Bard's absentmindedness with a straight face. It's a far different portrayal than Joseph Fiennes' womanizing and quick on his feet William in Shakespeare in Love.

Shakespeare's foil is Stanislavsky, who easily gets aggravated by William's lack of knowledge. Tessmer finds a balance between comedic annoyance and respect for his two co-stars.

With a similarity in appearance and timing to Christina Applegate and diva pompousness, White never feels like a third wheel. She is at her best during act two when the speed of the humor accelerates to ridiculous heights.

Some might be taken aback that act one only occasionally references crucial historic dramatic events. Part of the appeal is not knowing what is going to happen next, since the characters end up facing unusual predicaments that get in the way of their presentation.

Thompson's direction in act one has an improv-esque atmosphere, but act two feels more deliberately brisk.

Act two goes deeper in depth into history with important terminology and brief tributes to famous writers. Essential words including naturalism, realism, and avant-garde make special appearances.

Woody Allen, Stephen Sondheim, and even the late artist behind Amadeus, Peter Shaffer, are hilariously referenced. Having so many inside jokes could have potentially made Thompson appear like an arrogant showoff, but instead he just comes across as extremely knowledgeable.

Also a treat for aficionados are musical numbers that occur before the opening, during intermission, and after the curtain call. Sound designer Matt Warburton has chosen classic songs the likes of "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" and "Comedy Tonight."

Will Rickman's small set would make any thespian feel at home, with costumes, books, and a variety of props.

All of the actors are given the opportunity to take part in nutty slapstick reminiscent of a "Monty Python" sketch. A sequence referencing "the Scottish play" in particular is impressive for the visual chutzpah on display.

At 105 minutes, the evening generally runs extremely smoothly. If there is any room for improvement it would be to tighten the conclusion. There comes a point where the tale seems like it is going to end. Instead, an additional resolution runs about 10 extra minutes. As in the rest of the evening, there are playfully funny subversive moments. Still, the epilogue may be slightly abbreviated without taking anything away.

Thompson's staging will appeal to drama geeks and anyone in the mood for old-fashioned wacky entertainment. The Complete History of Theatre (Abridged) is nirvana for theatre lovers.

Point Loma Playhouse presents The Complete History of Theatre (Abridged) by Matt Thompson through June 26, 2016. Performs Thursdays through Sundays at 3035 Talbot St. Tickets are $24.00-$26.00 and can be purchased online at or by phone at 619-800-5497.

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