The Complete History of America (Abridged)

Wednesday night, I trekked on over to Petra’s Piano Bar in the Plaza Midwood neighborhood of Charlotte, to check out the opening night of this week’s show, The Complete History of America (Abridged) in the piano room. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, from either the cast or the audience.

I don’t remember the last time I was THAT entertained in Charlotte.

Seriously, the show couldn’t have gone better. It was pure mayhem, with three actors frantically taking the audience through American history from the Ice Age to the twenty-first century in under two hours. I was absolutely dazzled.

The creative talent behind this production will be familiar to regulars at Petra’s Piano Bar: director Stephen Seay is a seasoned employee at the bar, and this is his second directorial endeavor there. He brings several performers from his Petra’s debut, Petra Plays on the Couch, to this effort. Clay Smith is seen several nights a week at Petra’s, but you might only recognize his alter ego Roxy C. Moorecox. Bartender Jimmy Smith (no relation) returns as well, with a much better opportunity to show his acting chops. And though not an employee of the bar, Sal Garcia was featured in the previous show and has performed in cabarets and open-mic nights at Petra’s over the past year.

The set itself was essentially non-existent — just the normal stage by the piano — but dozens of props and costumes helped the actors transform (in some cases nearly instantly) into recognizable characters from American history. Before you think it’s all George Washington and Paul Revere, though, broaden your definition of history: in the actors’ crosshairs were everything from the Founding Fathers to more recent politicians, and plenty of pop culture references in between.

To be honest, I was worried that much of the show might not appeal to your typical bar patrons. A show with this kind of subject matter tends to attract the kind of people who go to college for History or spend long nights watching The History Channel and The Discovery Channel at home. But the script, the director, and the actors do a great job of making it accessible to damned near anyone… and better still, even when you DON’T get the joke (and I didn’t get all of them, that’s for sure) the comedy moves along so quickly that you don’t get caught up in your confusion.

Probably one of the best parts of the show is how much fun the performers are clearly having doing it. It’s honestly difficult to tell when they’re laughing at each other because they’re supposed to, or because they too are surprised by each other’s impromptu ad libs. And when things go wrong (as they undoubtedly will at any show like this in a small space, with a minimal cast, and a frantic pace) it’s almost impossible to know whether the gaffe was scripted (as many are) or accidental. Either way, the cast and the audience have fun with it.

As if the show wasn’t worth your time and money on its own, the show also serves as a benefit for House of Mercy of Belmont – A Ministry of the Sisters of Mercy. This organization is a hospice, providing a home and specialized care for people living with advanced AIDS. A raffle is held each night, with fabulous prizes for winners, and proceeds go to this noble cause.

The Complete History of America (Abridged) at Petra’s Piano Bar is brilliantly directed, delightfully performed, and a wonderful way to spend an evening while supporting a good cause. Go see it Saturday February 27th and Sunday February 28th — you will walk (stumble?) out happy that you did.

UPDATE: It’s time for an encore performance… Wednesday, March 3rd! If you missed this show last week, come out tonight and see what your friends were cracking up about.

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