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90 books in 90 minutes 'All the Great Books (Abridged)' is riotous fun

With less than two hours until graduation and one course left to pass, remedial literature students crowd into their school's auditorium, hoping to learn the basics of 90 classic books before it's too late.

Certainly, titles like "The Odyssey," "Great Expectations" and "The Canterbury Tales" are expected; what the students may not be prepared for, however, is the hilarity of their over-the-top instructors, the skits and one-liners that virtually reinvent boring books, and the constant puns and jokes that amount, very nearly, to a type of literary blasphemy.

"Reading and fun have very little to do with literature," one character quips, but "All the Great Books (Abridged)," performed by the Reduced Shakespeare Company and showing at Studio Arena until April 9, is a fast-paced, original and witty comedy that has everything to do with entertainment.

The play is structured, for the most part, as a series of short skits, each one involving a different classic from Western literature. In each case, the books are presented by three high school "teachers" who appear to know very little about the subject matter.

"The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" for instance, become "The Idiodity"; "Don Quixote" is performed entirely, and somewhat profanely, in Spanish; and Dante's Divine Comedy is reduced to one ironic line: "this genius wrote a comedy and left out all the jokes!"

Interspersed with these literary quips are frequent references to politics, pop culture and Buffalo itself, which makes the play not only funny, but also extremely current.

The humor is well-written and well-executed, with the kind of quick wit that keeps the audience laughing almost continuously throughout. Of course, it's only amplified by the antics of the play's three actors -- Mick Orfe, Michael Faulkner, and Brent Tubbs -- who often break out of character to address the audience directly or to improvise a scene. Their interaction with the audience not only makes the play fresh, but guarantees a different performance every time.

The books presented also vary between performances, though approximately 90 books and poems are referenced during each show. The flexible syllabus includes such well-known novels as "Animal Farm", "War and Peace", "For Whom the Bell Tolls," "The Scarlet Letter" and "Huckleberry Finn", as well as contemporary works like "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," "The Satanic Verses," and even Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham."

"All the Great Books (Abridged)" blends the spontaneous feel of a stand-up comedy with real originality and intelligence, resulting in a hilarious reinvention of those lengthy classics that high school students have come to dread. While the $32 ticket price may seem a little steep, this is one play that is worth every penny. It continues at Studio Arena through April 9, and tickets can be purchased online or at the Studio Arena box office.

Caitlin Dewey is a a junior at Buffalo Academy of Sacred Heart.

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