From George Washington to George W. Bush, the history of the United States will be told with humor — and speed — by three young actors in a Jefferson Performing Arts Society production opening Thursday night, June 26, at Teatro Wego, JPAS’ theater on the West Bank.
Period costumes, imaginative props and snappy one-liners will propel “The Complete History of America (abridged),” embarking on a six-performance run.
“This is a very entertaining way to look at a very serious topic,” said actor Logan Faust, 21. “I think people will come for the comedy, but they’ll also leave learning something. It’s a really fun way to celebrate America and also learn something about its history.”
The show also stars Phillip Benson and Drew Cothren. Each plays up to 20 historical characters in what is being billed as “a 90-minute rollercoaster ride through the glorious quagmire that is American history.”
Benson, who is JPAS’ box office manager and public relations director, found the play in “The Complete Works (abridged)” catalogue created by the Sonoma, California-based Reduced Shakespeare Company.
“I discussed it with Dennis (Assaf, JPAS’ artistic director) and he gave me the time slot around the Fourth of July,” Benson said. “It will make a nice patriotic celebration.”
Benson is playing presidents James Madison, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton and comedian Jimmy Durante; and several female roles such as singer Diana Ross and the wife of explorer Amerigo Vespucci.
Cothren plays George Washington and, in one of the play’s more humorous sequences, he puts out a call for Minutemen to fight for the American cause. The appeal is misunderstood as a call for tiny men, and Benson and Faust respond costumed as Munchkins, the little people from “The Wizard of Oz.”
Faust plays Benjamin Franklin, a Humphrey Bogart prototype (for a “Casablanca”-like scene) and many other roles as well.
The three co-direct the show. The sets are designed by JPAS assistant technical director Kristin Blatchford. Nicholas Frederick handles lighting and sound.
The show features original songs, sung both a cappella and to a prerecorded soundtrack.
Cothren, 28, who plays 18 roles, described the production as “very vaudevillian and over-the-top.”
“This is a very prop-heavy show,” Cothren said. “We’ll be throwing on powdered wigs and Andrews Sisters garb. … There’s a lot of bouncing around all over the place.”
Faust, who, in the production, changes the wording of “America the Beautiful” to something more to his liking, said, “This show has been a really fantastic way to train my character-acting muscles. It’s a lot of fun and a real workout at the same time, playing that many characters.”
“We all have improv backgrounds, and that definitely helps with our trust of each other,” Benson said. “We’re getting good chemistry working as an ensemble. It’s been a real blast, working with those guys and learning some things about American history that otherwise I wouldn’t have known. It’s been an education as well as entertainment.”