Dec 19 2012

Lake NeuronLake Neuron: Reducing expectations since 1981

Original post at http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/LakeNeuron/~3/C3b3EqWcxk0/

I actually read Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor’s fun and informative book Reduced Shakespeare: The Attention-Impaired Reader’s Guide to the World’s Best Playwright [Abridged] before I got to see (on video) what they’re famous for: the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s gut-busting production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), an irreverent romp in which a company of three actors blazes through various skits and dissections of the Bard’s most famous works. The first act covers almost everything Shakespeare wrote, then the second act is the ultimate send-up of “Hamlet,” complete with audience participation.

RSC has since come up with a number of omnibus satires in the same vein, covering topics like sports, U.S. history and the Bible. It was the Bible production that led a publisher to suggest Martin and Tichenor write a book about the topic. It was originally called “The Greatest Story Ever Sold,” but now the rights have reverted to the authors, who’ve re-released it, slightly updated, in e-book format as How The Bible Changed Our Lives (Mostly For The Better).

When I heard Martin and Tichenor discussing the book on the weekly RSC podcast, and discovered that the e-book was only $3.99, I snatched it up immediately for my Kindle. I wish The Wittenburg Door were still around, because I’d be pitching Bob Darden an interview with these guys before you can say “irreverent.”

This is not a book for those with a hair-trigger reaction to religious humor. This isn’t exactly like “Monty Python’s Life of Brian” in tone, but “Life of Brian” might be a pretty accurate barometer of whether you’d find this funny or sacrilegious.

Each chapter is written either in Martin’s voice or Tichenor’s – or, rather, in comically-exaggerated personas with their names. In real life, Tichenor is an agnostic and Martin a Presbyterian, but for purposes of the book Tichenor is practically an atheist and Martin a Bible-thumper who has driven even his pastor crazy (think Ned Flanders and Rev. Lovejoy). They take turns talking about various parts of the Bible. Martin’s retelling of Exodus, which manages to confuse Moses with various other iconic Charlton Heston roles, is a scream. (The right to bear arms turns up as one of the Ten Commandments.)

The mockery is mostly good-natured, although of course there were times when I found myself waving my arms and saying “Yes, they’re making fun of the fundamentalist or the most popular interpretation of this passage, but don’t they realize there’s a different interpretation?” That sort of anal-retentive commentary misses the point, and the humor, and I’d have to remind myself that this is a humor book. I was startled by Tichenor’s take on the 23rd Psalm – he has trouble with the shepherd metaphor because, after all, shepherds ultimately turn their sheep into mutton!

When Martin and Tichenor get to the New Testament, the book takes an even more fanciful turn, with one of the author-characters taking a sort of messianic arc.

Again, the book isn’t for everyone. But I am, after all, a former contributing editor for the Door, and I have a soft spot for well-executed religious satire. This is well-executed religious satire, from experts on satire and parody.

Here’s a promotional video for the stage production which indirectly inspired the book:

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