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'The Bible' is good-humored reading of Good Book

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The Reduced Shakespeare Company is in the business of milking sacred cows.

Borrowing the initials of its British royal counterpart, the California-based troupe created its first full-length show by shrinking the Bard's oeuvre -- the sonnets as well as the plays -- down to a single evening. The company then applied its reductive talents to all of American history. Now, thanks to a commission from Washington's Kennedy Center, its target is the greatest story ever told, or as the RSC prefers to call it, "the greatest story ever accepted as fact."

If you find that offensive, this is not the show for you. But while the shameless-and-proud members of the RSC claim to have put the "fun" back in fundamentalism, they're also well aware that they're preaching to the converted. And it's difficult to dispute the logic behind their assertion that God must have a sense of humor because he created people with a sense of humor.

Performed by Matthew Croke, Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor (who are also responsible for the script, together with Adam Long), the show divides the Good Book into two acts -- one for the Old Testament and one for the New.

These amiable performers can be forgiven if they occasionally let characters and stories from one act slip into the other, just as they can be forgiven for resorting to cornball humor, puns, old jokes and for repeatedly spritzing the audience with water.

The creation of Eve is depicted as an "Alien"-style eruption in the rib cage of Martin's Adam. (Later on, the question is raised: "Computers were in the Garden of Eden?" The reply: "Eve had an Apple.")

The role of Moses falls to the scholarly looking Tichenor, who regales us with the top 10 rejected commandments. He elicited boos when he read: "Thou shalt let the poor fend for themselves." But he quickly apologized and corrected himself: "That's the 'Contract with America.' "

Other fractured Scripture tales take the form of a World Wrestling Federation double bill, in which the angel Gabriel wrestles Jacob, followed by a bout between Samson and the Philistine. (Samson smites him with the jawbone of Jesse Helms.)

The RSC's origins as a Renaissance fair act, as well as Croke and Martin's backgrounds as circus clowns, surface frequently. Martin juggles the fire from Moses' burning bush. Not to be outdone, Croke balances a ladder on his chin. After intermission, all three perform magic tricks as stand-ins for Jesus' miracles.

The youthful Croke -- who plays most of the women's roles, from the Virgin Mary to Salome -- doesn't have quite as much stage presence as gangly, bald Martin or brash Tichenor. Together, however, the trio has more than enough antic energy to overcome any unevenness in performance styles or material.

Early on, this RSC trio informs the audience that "The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged)" is rated PG-13 -- "pretty good if you're 13." It's also pretty good if you just feel like pretending you're 13.

"The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged)"

Where: Terrace Theater, Kennedy Center, Washington

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sundays; through Aug. 20

Tickets: $15

Call: (800) 444-1324

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