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Witless script dooms "History of America'

It's called The Complete History of America (Abridged), and the abridging is really the impressive part.

After all, playwrights Adam Long, Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor had hundreds of years of sociopolitical history to examine, much of it bristling with potential for sharp satire.

They've taken the time to go through that history bit by bit, year by year. With surgical precision, they've excised anything that's even the least bit amusing. A masterful achievement indeed.

The lively and likable cast of the current Jobsite Theater production at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center gives it their all, with energetic and appropriately hammy performances. But standing against the overpowering force of the script's witlessness, actors David Jenkins, Shawn Paonessa and Jason Vaughan Williams don't stand a chance.

"I'm Betsy Ross," says one of the actors, in drag. "And this is my sister Diana."

That's supposed to be funny, apparently, and on Saturday it scored pretty high on the audience's laugh-o-meter.

It's typical of the caliber of the humor in this agonizing two hours. In one segment, the guys point out, with the help of visual aids, that the letters in the word "American" can be rearranged to spell "I can ream."

One character claims to be part American Indian. His grandmother was a full-blooded Crow. She had a wingspan of 8 feet.

Actually, a few of the gags are half a notch above those. But almost without exception, the funnier lines are old and familiar. At times the audience shouts out the punch lines before the actors get to them.

It was in 1968, for example, that adolescent boys around the country were laughing at the observation that Spiro Agnew's name could be reworked to spell "grow a penis." (If you're not old enough to remember who Agnew was, don't fret; it wouldn't make the joke any funnier.)

Even though Jobsite regulars Jenkins, Paonessa and Evans lend a tad of appealing buffoonery and Katrina Stevenson provides some colorful costumes, the production as a whole comes off looking cheap.

Any high school drama club could stage a show with production values that equal these.

Puerile and embarrassing audience participation segments, squirt gun fights and a painfully boring Maltese Falcon parody serve to exacerbate the tedium.

This is the third installment of the Complete/Abridged series _ after The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) and The Complete Word of God (Abridged) _ which has been successful for Jobsite. The original run has already sold out. Jobsite has added a show for this Saturday; more may be added later, Stevenson said.

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