Many people admire Charleston’s lush history. Some take that legacy a little too seriously, with an anal-retentive obsession for its early people and architecture. Others ignore local history completely. So it makes sense for Theatre 99 to produce a show that looks to the past in a far-from-sensible way.
Theatre 99 brethren Greg Tavares, R.W. “Smitty” Smith, and Caleb Usry have spent the last five months perfecting their funny formula for a historical, sketch-based show. The resulting History of Charleston for Morons is part bluffer’s guide, part self-effacement, making the most of a topic that’s ripe for gags.
“It’s not a lecture demo, it’s a comedy show,” says Morons writer Greg Tavares, “but there are hundreds of facts in there, solid information that we use as a basis for scenes.”
Tavares’ biggest problem is deciding what to include from the city’s rich chronology. “The production’s tighter than when we started and it’s not textually different, but it’s 10 to 15 minutes longer. It’s filled out and found its rhythm now.”
Fortunately, the show’s style allows for segues that skip decades, as the cast maintains a spontaneous air throughout. Their good-natured bickering covers the fundamental questions that every Lowcountry historian asks: which great events molded the city, and which transformed it? How did a bug-plagued marsh become the cosmopolitan burg it is today? And what would The Patriot‘s Mel Gibson have done if his army was made up of morons?
“Audiences really like our Revolutionary War sequence,” says Tavares, “where I give a straight narration of events on one side, and on the other Smitty and Caleb take on everything from Brokeback Mountain to all the war movies you can think of.”
The pop cultural references have helped draw in patrons more used to watching reality TV than The Have Nots!’ brand of humor. Well-received highlights include a popular Southern belles sketch with the cast in drag, which comes across as Tootsie meets Gone with the Wind; introductory video clips that illustrate indigenous ignorance when it comes to our local heritage; and a Survivor spin-off where the contestants are Charleston’s original founders (and a Native American, who’s brought along a tomahawk as his “personal object” — guess who gets voted off the peninsula).
There’s also a strong response to a segment featuring a cast member in blackface makeup. “People want to see how we can make that funny,” Tavares says. “They like that we don’t shy away from the subject. That scene has some teeth to it.”
The show’s accessibility has its drawbacks. “We’ve learned to be careful when putting ‘morons’ in a title. It attracts some wingnuts. We’ve had complete idiots in the front row and we just work them into a scene. We’re definitely getting people who don’t usually come to the theatre, and that’s a good and bad thing.”
Tavares plans to keep expanding Morons. “It constantly evolves. We’re always rewriting the jokes and making them better. It has a pervasive innocence, an earnest approach to its subject, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously.” That, along with the broad-ranging audience, doesn’t sound like a bad thing at all.
THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF CHARLESTON FOR MORONS • Piccolo Spoleto’s Piccolo Fringe at Theatre 99 • $15 • May 27, June 4, 10 at 2 p.m.; May 29 at 5 p.m.; June 7 at 4 p.m. • 1 hour 10 min • Theatre 99, 280 Meeting St. • 554-6060
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