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Words to laugh by: ‘All the Great Books’ onstage for young audiences

Bill DeYoung

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Cast members Katie Calahan, left, and Jesy Julianna in a scene from ThinkTank Theatre for Young Audiences' "All the Great Books (abridged)." Photo provided.

The current wave of book-banning in American school libraries has not gone unnoticed by Georgia Mallory Guy, whose ThinkTank Theatre for Young Audiences is opening All the Great Books (abridged) this weekend in Tampa.

First produced in 2003, it’s a lightning-fast comedy in which three actors attempt to synopsize 89 classic works of literature in 100-plus minutes.

“There’s a scene that actually talks about book-banning,” Guy says. “Who knew they were wise beyond their years when this play was first published, that book-banning was going to continue to be an issue moving forward?”

Playwrights Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor added a note in the script that anyone producing the show was encouraged to adapt their words to include topical references.

That was all Guy and her group needed to hear.

“There’s a section where two of the actors, Katie Calahan and Katie Huettel, talk about it. One of the characters, a teacher, says ‘Y’know, if they try to take these books out of schools, you can still go get ‘em at the book store.’ It’s not like they’re really doing anything by pulling books from schools. It’s just going to make them that much more interested. You tell kids they can’t do something, and suddenly they want to go do it.

“That’s the point she makes, which I think is very poignant. I think it’s something some parents should hear.”

The group is producing the show in the Straz Center’s black box, the Shimberg Playhouse, which has a capacity of approximately 120.

Plays in the (abridged) series are lightning-fast and breathless. “These are quick-witted, funny shows – silly puns, lots of slapstick,” Guy points out. “I feel like All the Great Books is one that allows more room for younger audiences. It stays a little closer to a PG rating, I guess, so it’s more encouraging for families.

“Some of their other shows – Shakespeare, Comedy, History of the United States (abridged) – can get a little bit on the raunchy side.”

The ThinkTank m.o. is to produce compelling theater for those in middle school and up; it is, pointedly, not children’s theater. That’s a different thing entirely.

Along with Calahan and Huettel, the cast includes Jessy Julianna, with brief (but crucial) appearances by Jake Perez. Said director Brianna Larson in a press release: “What’s most exciting for me is this is a play traditionally performed by three guys, and it’s been really fun to bring some girl power to it.

“High-paced slapstick comedy is the most challenging work a performer can do. It’s been really fun to watch these three fierce women tackle this really challenging comedy. It’s been a pleasure for me.”

Set in a high school gym, the play finds the intrepid trio randomly grabbing whatever items they can find to explain All the Great Books.

“This is definitely a belly-laugh kind of slapstick comedy,” Guy explains. “They just use the concept of all these books that we’ve heard about – that even kids have heard about. They’ve heard about Huckleberry Finn and The Odyssey. If they’re in high school, they might have heard about Ulysses. They might have read Heart or Darkness. And they probably had to read The Illyad, or sections of it.”

The titles fly by, everything from To Kill a Mockingbird to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

“And those of us who are adults, we remember these stories,” concludes Guy. “And we remember going, literally, ‘What was this book about?’

“That’s what’s so funny about this play; there are a number of times where the actors say ‘What is this book about?’ Then they’ll paraphrase it in a funny way, and say ‘Oh. We were trying to make something complex out of a very simple story.’”

All the Great Books (abridged) is presented Feb. 4-13 (tickets and info here). ThinkTank offers “relaxed” performances, with minimal darkness and effects for patrons with sensory sensitivities, and/or children under 8, at 3 p.m. Feb. 5 and 12. Admission to the relaxed shows is free, but advance tickets are required.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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