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“I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.” ~Will Rogers
The above quotation is courtesy of 1812’s “Study Guide,” a witty compilation of famous comedians’ observations about comedy, offered online as a companion to their witty show. In this annual theatrical event, 1812 Productions reports plenty of those governmental facts after watching current events like hawks. Or, more likely, like doves.
Of course, in an election year, especially with a campaign like the current one, the company faces an embarrassment of riches. All the show’s performers are also its writers, with the addition of Don Montrey. He’s the head news writer, and though he doesn’t appear onstage, his bio in the program is one of the funniest I’ve ever read.
With Jen Childs at its helm—as director, writer, and performer—this political vaudeville focuses almost entirely on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The Vice Presidential candidates make brief appearances mainly in the guise of a slice of white bread. (Where, oh where, is that eminently mockable Chris Christie? And how could they resist the temptation of Fenerty and the Parking Authority hoo-ha?)
You can't always get what you want
We get plenty to laugh at or sometimes only smile; after all, this material has been pretty well worked over by various media. One skit has us close our eyes, imagine Hillary as president, only to open them and discover that nothing’s changed. Same exercise imagining Trump as president: when we open our eyes, the two cast members who are persons of color have vanished. Another skit has an after hours party, with Childs playing Hillary as a glamorous lounge singer, Dave Jadico as Bill, billed as a “great first ladies man,” Sean Close as an amusing Elizabeth Warren, with Al Gore (the terrific Alex Bechtel) at the piano.
Bechtel also provides a hilarious Trump, backed by his band: David Duke and the Kentucky Klansmen, singing, “I gotta be me,” with Justin Jain in a fine disco turn as Melania. He then introduces his children, a.k.a., “my Cabinet.” The cast — including Nia-Samara Benjamin — is always fun to watch, although some of the jokes are lame and the news desk suffers from overstretched material.
And finally, what we’ve all been waiting for: Childs as Patsy, the opinionated South Philly woman who can always teach us a lesson. Patsy, Childs’s genius invention, complete with pink sweatshirt and front stoop, manages as always to leave us with a meaningful jolt as well as a laugh. If the candidates were Philadelphians, she tells us, Hilary would be the Iggles (“it’s fine now, but you just know…”) while Trump would be scrapple (“even if you love it, deep down you know it’s disgusting”).
The show’s finale, an all-cast rendering of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” provided a long and oddly awkward conclusion. Somehow Will Rogers suits this very American occasion more than the Rolling Stones.
To listen to our podcast interview with cast members Nia-Samara Benjamin and Sean Close, click here.
What, When, Where
This Is the Week That Is: The Election Special. Jennifer Childs directed. Through Nov. 7, 2016 at the Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey St., Philadelphia. (215) 592-9560 or 1812productions.org.
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