For one Mobile Theatre Guild neophyte, the advantages of Azalea City life are easy to see.
“I would much rather have the summers in Mobile than the winters in the North. It’s hot, it’s humid, but I don’t have to dig my car out of the snow every morning,” Josh Carl said. “Winter in Indianapolis sucks.”
The California native hit Atlanta before the Hoosier State, so he’s had a taste of Southern summer in the past. There’s another past — deeper and quicker — he’s concentrating on these days.
As one of only three cast members in Mobile Theatre Guild’s new production of “The Complete History of America (Abridged),” Carl is putting a new twist on our national story and diving headlong into a daunting chore. That’s obvious when you see it billed as 600 years of history in 6,000 seconds.
“It’s been about 12 days we’ve been in rehearsal. We’re still trying to memorize everything,” Carl said. “I wasn’t even much of a fan of history when I was in school but this is actually entertaining.”
Each of the three actors — Carl, Barney March and Jay Deen — is responsible for not only several roles but a good bit of the material to boot. It’s built into the play.
“This is kind of what we call ‘a bucket of bits,’” March said. “We’re always adding things to it. The revision is constant.”
The play is one of a series from the Reduced Shakespeare Company, which began the whole schmir in 1981 and ended up with a variety of up-tempo combinations of both low- and high-brow material tagged as “new vaudeville.” The subject matter is wide ranging.
“The playwrights have done several of these, like ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged),’ or ‘The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged),’ all the same formula,” Carl said of the breakneck pace. “[Director Lars Tatom] directed a previous version so he’s very accustomed to it.”
A San Jose State grad with a major in film and theater, Carl has previous roles to his credit, some in college, some in community theater in Atlanta. A graphic and web designer by day, this was his first Mobile audition but isn’t likely to be his last.
“It all depends on my work schedule. Summer is usually the easiest time when I can do it. I’d love to try and direct stuff as well,” Carl said.
He picked a frenetic foray. Carl’s continual citation of speed and rapid preparation sound daunting.
“There’s a lot of on and off, a lot of fast-paced costume change. It’s very quick. Learning all our lines, with props, costumes, and it’s very hard having about 15 days from start to finish before we go live,” Carl said.
It’s also a zany project. Some of the roles March described for himself — Amerigo Vespucci’s wife, Besty Ross’ sister Diana, Lucille Ball — give a sample of the range and madcap nature.
“Most of the show is based on history loosely. There are some facts in there, but, like, there’s a scene … where George Washington, Madison and Jefferson are talking about the Declaration of Independence and saying [things] like, ‘maybe we should make a counter piece to the Bill of Rights called the Bill of Wrongs,’” Carl said. “There’s other presidents mixed in — Nixon, Reagan, Bush, Obama.”
Carl also provides narration between segments. He said those informational transitions keep the audience in stride with the pace.
“My two favorite parts are I get to kind of do a radio announcer in a radio drama like from the 1930s or ‘40s,” Carl said. “Then we do a film noir kind of thing that’s fun, like a Humphrey Bogart detective.”
The play premiered in 1992, when our first President Bush squared off with Ross Perot and Bill Clinton in a bid to return to the White House. As such, revision is expected and instructed by the playwrights.
“You can ad lib, throw things in here and there to make it fun as you go,” Carl said. “The scripts are very open with a lot of room for contemporary material. They encourage you to kind of update it.”
The show runs at Mobile Theatre Guild (14 N. Lafayette St.) Aug. 14-30. Friday and Saturday curtain is at 8 p.m. Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $20, $15 for seniors, military and students. Call 251-433-7513 for reservations or go to mobiletheatreguild.org for more information.
Though his wife’s online studies in the University of Alabama grad school program required residence in the Heart of Dixie, Carl can see why, as a Tampa native, she wanted to return. The secret is in the audience.
“I just like the South in general,” Carl said. “The people are a little bit nicer.”
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