Indeed, if anything informs the show, it is a reverence for conspiracy theories to explain everything from the Bill of Rights to the Persian Gulf War. "It's a very strong American thing," Tichenor said. "People used to turn to religion for answers, and now they turn to conspiracy theories."
The troupe--which is scheduled to perform its plays this year across the country and as well as in Britain, Canada and Israel--was founded in 1981 by Daniel Singer, who staged an abbreviated version of "Hamlet" at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Marin County. When his Ophelia sprained an ankle, Long took over the part, and continues to play most of the company's female roles.
"I'm more in touch with my feminine side," said Long, 32, who studied speech and theater at Pepperdine University in Malibu. "And I look marvelous in a skirt."
While the troupe was a part-time affair, Long supported himself as an accountant for nuclear freeze groups, something he found a refreshing change from acting and writing.
"I love accounting. I'm not embarrassed to say that. You don't get critics saying, 'I thought the accounts receivable were pretentious.' "
In 1987, the troupe financed its way to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, a theatrical free-for-all in the Scottish capital where thousands of amateurs put on shows, hoping to win notice. While few productions ever emerge from the Fringe, the Reduced Shakespeare's was a huge hit, and led to international tours and a run at London's Arts Theatre that ended in February.
Martin replaced Singer in 1989 when the founder left to design amusement park rides for the Walt Disney Co. Martin, whose shaved pate resembles that of Midnight Oil singer Peter Garrett, said his stage persona is that of "the pragmatist, saying, 'Let's get through this.' "
Tichenor, 32, a former theater director and television arts reporter in New Hampshire, said he joined last July "when they needed someone vaguely professorial and pompous." He replaced original member Jess Borgeson who now is assembling the annotated edition of "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)," which the company says will be published in summer by Applause Books.
Long said Singer and Borgeson had departed amicably.
"They're both going to be thought of as the Pete Bests of the Reduced Shakespeare Company," he said.
The current members of the troupe, he noted, have been hired to be the voices of a trio of huskies in an upcoming animated feature, and might get an assignment from the BBC to bring their version of Shakespeare to radio.
But for the time being, they are concentrating on the "America" show. Long said he hopes tonight's performance, which is being sponsored by Cal State Fullerton, would be educational for its largely collegiate audience.
"Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it," he said. "Or, as our promo material says, 'Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.' "
\o7 The Reduced Shakespeare Company will perform "The Complete History of America (Abridged)" tonight at 8 at the Pacific Auditorium, 2500 E. Nutwood Ave., Fullerton. $12.50, $17.50 (Cal State Fullerton students: $10.50, $15.50). (714) 773-3371. \f7