The Good Book gets passably tweaked in “The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged),” the latest essay in comic truncation from the Reduced Shakespeare Company. In the past, the company has turned its reductive wit toward Shakespeare and even America itself. But while weary tourists may lap up the American troupe’s latest lampoon, others have the right to expect more than Edinburgh Festival-style sketches inflated to fill a West End house.
What’s needed, perhaps, is a director to bring an outside eye to skits that go slack almost from the outset. Instead, as staged by two of the performers, Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, the Bible-bashing is simply an overextended revue that looks like summer filler: It will take a true New Testament God to make this one the West End mainstay that the company’s previous shows have been.
The troupe’s ongoing stock-in-trade consists of bad puns (“Denial is not just a river in Europe”), a daffy literal-mindedness and the sort of jokes calculated to elicit a groan from the house: “Do you love me, Thomas?” asks the Lord.
New this time around is a sourness presumably intended to show what hipsters these visiting Yanks are. Hence, we get cracks at the expense of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Benjamin Netanyahu and even “The English Patient,” as well as tired quips about English food (“spotted dick” and the like) to suggest that these guys haven’t eaten out in London since 1972. More contemporary japes target New Labour and the Spice Girls.
The performers are at their best in bits of business that find Matt Rippy balancing a ladder on his chin, Martin juggling fire and Tichenor squirting bits of the Red Sea into the auditorium. Much is made of Martin’s faltering physique as against company newcomer Rippy’s pulchritude, and it is Rippy who plays all the women, including — yes — God.