While rooting through the trash behind Theatre 99 in an attempt to dig up some dirt on The Have Nots!, we found a prop list for a new historical comedy catering exclusively to idiots. The Complete History of Charleston for Morons is written by Greg Tavares and directed by Tavares, R.W. Smith, and Caleb Usry, the three cast members. The first three productions were an attempt to clue in citizens ignorant of Chucktown’s action-packed past — and also to workshop a show they hope to see become a regular addition to the Theatre 99 repertoire.
Here are some items from that remarkable prop list, along with some thoughts on the production itself:
A wrinkly piece of cloth for use as a projector screen to show video footage at the start of the show. The footage features vox pops shot on the streets of Charleston. The trio ask members of the public about local history and respondents mostly dazzle the audience with their ignorance.
The wrinkles make the images a little hard to see; that’s a disappointment after the slick video elements of Theatre 99’s recent short run of Vampire Lesbians of Sodom. Still, the sound’s good and the candid man-on-the-street clips are entertainingly dumb, with a memorable turn from a dude who makes Keanu Reeves sound like Edward Gibbon.
An atlas of all the Charlestons in America. While Greg Tavares delivers a lot of the actual historical information during the show, a section on Charleston timelines gives R.W. Smith (better known as a PURE Theatre ensemble member) a chance to shine. He’s warm, funny, and — unlike the third member of the cast — relaxed. Caleb Usry fidgets his way through Morons, shifting from one foot to another like he’s standing on an ants’ nest. But he also gets some of the best lines and makes the most of them.
A box of tea, a conquistador’s helmet, and a tomahawk — special items used in Apprenticing Survival in Charlestowne, a reality TV show set in the 1600s. Movies and TV shows get spoofed a lot in this production, an attempt to make the historical facts more palatable for today’s attention-deficit-afflicted audiences: a bunch of morons. (Yes, the cast get considerable jollies from insulting their patrons. Who else but a dummy would attend a play with “Morons” in the title?)
A map of South Carolina’s coast, 1686. Tavares gives an assured performance in various roles. As meteorologist “Fob Rowler,” he announces that the entire coast is on Invasion Watch when the Spanish plan to attack Charlestowne. Smith holds the map, which includes a little galleon that he wiggles around a bit.
Angelina Jolie’s left breast, adding some star power to a movie script version of the Revolutionary War. One or two lighting cues are off here, while others are purposefully pickled. Smith doesn’t always find his light, leaving his left side in darkness. Along with Usry, he pitches the script, while Tavares gives the historical commentary. Tavares seems unaware that after his many previous humorous interludes, the audience probably won’t believe a goddamned word he says, factual or not.
Blackface makeup for off-color gags about race.
Gingham bonnets for a riff on Gone With The Wind, segueing nicely into a look at the Civil War. A stony-faced Tavares brings us the latest news from The Secession Room while his colleagues report from the front line.
With echoes of Eclectic Eel Productions’ Frankly Charleston and the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s The Complete History of America (Abridged), this is an informal piece that threatens to break out into improvisation at any second.
The whole thing could be tighter, with Usry and Tavares occasionally shaky on their lines. But they get away with it because of the easy rapport they have with the audience and plenty of improv experience, relying on our knowledge of their prior work — and a lot of local insider jokes — for some of the laughs, though neither is guaranteed to serve them well with tourist-heavy audiences in the future. Although the lively blocking holds our attention, there are no sets, the props are makeshift at best, and there’s only one sound cue — an abrupt harp chord. If they need music, these guys whistle. Humor relies heavily on puns, parochial jokes, and the personalities of the presenters.
Tavares, Smith, and Usry hope to develop Morons into a monthly two-act show and possibly make it part of Theatre 99’s Piccolo Fringe lineup next spring. With a bit more polish it will make a solid play to draw in tourists and even locals who don’t mind some well-aimed, good-humored jabs at the Holy City.
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