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14, Sep 2016
Braithwaite as Trump

Presidential politics spoofed

by Steve Cohen
The Cultural Critic

Electile Dysfunction. Written by and starring Tony Braithwaite, Tracie Higgins and Will Dennis. Braithwaite directed at Act II Playhouse, Ambler, PA.

 

We readily identify with the problem facing Tony Braithwaite. He can’t get excited by the 2016 Presidential campaign; can’t get it up, so to speak, for any of the candidates and so he calls in therapists (Tracie Higgins and Will Dennis) to try to fix his malfunction.

That’s the premise of the opening production of the season at Act II Playhouse in Ambler, where Braithwaite is artistic director. His compatriots recommend a cure that consists of making fun of the election process, and the 80-minute show does just that.

The format reminds us of 1812 Productions’s annual This Is the Week That Is, to which Braithwaite has contributed, but is more tightly focused on presidential politics. Electile Dysfunction also is more non-partisan while 1812 leans leftward. Act II seems to have no agenda other than laughter.

As directed and co-written by Braithwaite, Electile follows the “prescription” of his fictional doctors and uses outrageous spoofing to successfully distract attention from the depressing campaigns. Surely, many attendees share his frustration and will find release when they see this show.

Braithwaite’s impersonation of Donald Trump was the best I’ve seen. He had the precise gestures, the voice and an outrageous wig as he raged about the rampant influx of “criminals and rapists” crossing over Butler Pike into Ambler. Unlike the mayor “who’s doing a terrible, terrible job,” this Trump would throw all these immigrants into jail.

Higgins did a Hillary with overtones of Barbra Streisand. Braithwaite and Dennis then intervened as Professor Henry Higgins and Colonel Pickering, complaining about the dull way in which Hillary was speaking. To the tune of “The Rain in Spain” they instructed her to talk with more of a lilt, to “campaign to gain a reign with Tim Kaine.”

A press conference featured Dennis dashing from one aisle of the theater to the other, impersonating reporters from various journals. At a podium, Braithwaite responded to the questions in a tour de force of rapid changes among Obama, Reagan, JFK, Nixon, Ford, Carter, FDR, Bill Clinton, both of the Bushes, and even some wannabees who never made it to the White House such as Al Gore, John McCain and Ross Perot.

He’s known as a masterful impersonator, but I’ve never seen Braithwaite do so many disparate characters in such a short time frame — and so well. Why isn’t this man on Saturday Night Live?

Braithwaite did make an attempt at a televison career. In 1994 he auditioned for the program Friends and was considered for the role eventually played by Matthew Perry. Earlier, Braithwaite was a graduate of Georgetown University and he happened to meet Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton on their visits to campus.

So he had dual interests in politics and theater, and the two have never coincided so perfectly as they do in this new show. While Higgins, Dennis and Robbins were fine, the center of attention was Braithwaite. This certainly is not a complaint, because he was in top form. If one wanted to choose a single example of Braithwaite at his best, this would be it.

The improvisational skills of Braithwaite, Higgins and Dennis were displayed in numerous departures from script and, most impressively, in an audience-participation segment. Braithwaite dragged a random patron on stage and asked him more than a dozen personal questions. Higgins and Dennis, standing on stage, heard the answers and it was clear that they were not writing anything down. Amazingly, without time for conferring, Higgins, Dennis and Braithwaite then launched an ingenious parody of the show Hamilton, using the hip-hop cadences of Lin-Manuel Miranda to celebrate the life of the man from the audience.

Musical director Owen Robbins, at the piano, contributed funny historical footnotes.

The set by Adam Riggar was a gaudy splash of patriotic images.

 
See an update about this production here.

 

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