As you read this review, it is worth bearing in mind that Bud Light is the world's most beloved beer, clobbering its nearest rival by 12.7 million barrels a year. (The second-placer? Budweiser.) Consider too that the world's most beloved eatery is McDonald's, its favorite purveyor of Italian food the Olive Garden, and its favorite nonfiction book of the past decade The Secret, which isn't even nonfiction.
The point is, people enjoy a lot of perfectly awful things, and Completely Hollywood (Abridged) at the Mosaic Theatre is one of them.
To be fair, it is a belly-laugh-a-minute spectacle, the interstitial silences of which are punctuated with helpless giggling. Actors Christian Rockwell, Antonio Amadeo, and Erik Fabregat turn in loose, fun, gamely nutty performances, each worthy of respect and admiration. By most objective measures, Completely Hollywood is a success. But I hated it.
My basic complaint is ad hominem. The creators of Completely Hollywood, the Reduced Shakespeare Company, are a loose association of comedians and thespians living in California who discovered nearly 30 years ago that audiences went batty over their condensing of the entire Shakespeare canon into a single 90-minute show. Like Ray Kroc, they industrialized the procedure by which they created their most popular product and set about making a good living. Don't begrudge them their fortune; free markets being what they are, someone was destined to combine the theatrical equivalent of two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, and onions on a sesame-seed bun. But the Reduced Shakespeare Company has now (Abridged) the Bible, Western civilization, Western literature, the millennium, Broadway, sports, and more. The endless repetition seems, to this observer, to have snuffed the original spark of novelty and invention that made Shakespeare so potent.
Watching the company's take on Shakespeare, you can easily imagine how a few inventive young kids might have created the show almost by accident, just for the pleasure of outgoofing and outsmarting one another. The majesty of the bard's language invited irreverence. "Call me but love — " says one of the actors, and is interrupted. "All right, Butt Love!" Later, during Hamlet, the ghost appears and says "Boo!" When the players tackle Hamlet in reverse, the Ghost enters backward and says "Oob!"
I'd bet that "Oob" was the primary reason the Reduced Shakespeareans decided to reverse Hamlet at all. Completely Hollywood has a reversed segment too, and it is there because, hey, why mess with success? (The audience applauds it, but only as an example of actor virtuosity. It is not especially funny.) When, in Shakespeare, the company mounted The Histories as a football game with a crown rather than a pigskin, it came off as a droll commentary on mortality and power. When Hollywood mashes up the "orgasm" scene from When Harry Met Sally with the chest-popping scene from Alien, it communicates as forced goofiness. Neither When Harry Met Sally nor Alien is subverted or commented upon. They are present merely because we know them, and most of us are suckers for the familiar.
Completely Hollywood reportedly crams 197 great films into two acts, but very few of their plots are actually explicated in any meaningful way. Many are merely mentioned; many are exploited for their most famous scenes and then left behind. You could learn something about Shakespeare's output from The Complete Works of Shakespeare; you will learn very little about, say, Al Pacino from Completely Hollywood, even though his mug and thuggish patois are invoked almost talismanically.
The conceit of Completely Hollywood is that the three actors are struggling Hollywood types who have written screenplays that they are desperate to see produced. Knowing that all successful new movies are recombinations of successful old ones, they soon decide to fuse their three scripts into the most referential, retrograde screenplay ever — one that hits upon all the tropes of the movie biz, thereby dragging in recognizable and beloved elements of almost every great American film of the past century. It's meant to be a send-up of the lack of originality endemic in Hollywood's halls of power. I am left with the disconcerting impression that its writers have become the very things they mock. They are borrowers of glories past, tradesmen repackaging tired ideas and calling them entertainment, when in fact they are only commerce.