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Skip Cliff Notes: See “All the Great Books Abridged”

  • Chris Shayota, the professor (left), tries to grab the Cliff Notes from the student teacher played by Jasmine Flores-Nunez (center) while Alexx Valdez (right) cheers for the short cut book. Photo credit to Thomas Chown

By: Janet and Lanny Lowery
March 8, 2019

The Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) Theatre Arts Department presents “All the Great Books Abridged” opening Fri., March 8, at Newman Auditorium.  The show plays through March 17 at 8 p.m. March 8, 9, 13, 14, 15 and 16 with matinees beginning at 2 p.m. March 10, 16, and 17.  Tickets are available for purchase online at http://theatrearts.santarosa.edu/buy-tickets-online-O and at the SRJC’s Theatre Box Office at (707) 527-4307.

No Cliff Notes needed, “All the Great Books Abridged” by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor presents brief, comedic renditions of great writers and thinkers like Confucius, Thoreau, Swift and more.  The SRJC press release puns up its play description:  “Confused by Confucius?  Thoroughly thrown by Thoreau?  Wish Swift was swifter?  Then buckle up and hop aboard as you zip through everything you didn’t get around to reading in school, a ninety-eight minute roller-coaster ride the world’s great books.”

Following the highly successful format used in “The Reduced Shakespeare” which made its first run more than twenty years ago, this production of “All the Great Books Abridged” employs twelve actors.  A graduate of Technology High School in Rohnert Park, Christopher Shayota plays the professor.  Shayota claims his credentials for playing this role: “I scored a five on the AP Literature exam and was an English major for about two months.”

The student teacher, played by Jasmine Flores-Nunez, a student at Roseland University Prep, describes her unique qualifications: “When assigned a long, boring book, I look for explanations/summaries like the ones in the show.  I’ve taken Honors/AP English since my sophomore year, but this show makes me feel like I know nothing about literature!”  Her oblique remark serves as a warning that the show may take a left turn, take us off the road of understanding but entertain us with surreal comedy,   

A third actor, Alexx Valdez, appears to be that student that many of us might have been.  Valdez holds nearly a dozen classics and grimaces at the overwhelming task of actually reading them until the student teacher holds up a copy of Cliff Notes.  Valdez, the student, roars with approval and reaches for the short cut while the teacher attempts to whisk away the notes.

Ed Siegel wrote in the Boston Globe about “All the Great Books Abridged” that it is “verbally dexterous and physically agile.  The show darts from satire to silliness to sophisticated reverence.”  Look for all the fun that the Reduced Shakespeare Company provided with the works of the Bard.

No surprise that this production, a sort of live Saturday Night Live, written by Tichenor and Martin and directed by Reed Martin follows the Reduced Shakespeare format.  The director, a managing partner of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, has adapted this RSC hit to be performed by an ensemble of twelve SRJC theatre arts students.  As the Washington Post said of the play, “English class meets Monty Python.”  Martin has prepared his actors to deliver some hilarious takes on great literature.

The show is recommended for ages 13 and above and will be shown on select dates from March 8 through March 17 in the Newman Auditorium on the Santa Rosa Junior College campus.