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21, Oct 2016
Alex Bechtel & Justin Jain as Donald & Melania, photo by Mark Garvin

Staying up-to-date with election humor

by Steve Cohen
The Cultural Critic

When Donald Trump’s Access Hollywood recording became public, politicians panicked about how they should respond. The heads of two Philadelphia-area theater companies, on the other hand, viewed the news as a wonderful opportunity. Here’s a report on how each of them handled the changing events during the election campaigns.

Jennifer Childs, director, head writer and co-star of 1812 Productions’s This Is the Week That is: Election Edition heard the news about Trump’s sexually-explicit recording when she returned home from a Friday night performance at the Plays & Players Theatre in Philly. She quickly e-mailed her cast and creative team and set an early Saturday meeting for adding new material to their satiric revue.

Tony Braithwaite, artistic director, co-writer and co-star of Act II Theater’s Electile Dysfunction saw the video around the same time, after returning home from that night’s performance in suburban Ambler. He, too, arranged a Saturday morning session to insert new comments into his show.

Both companies have regular meetings to update their material — Childs says that the present-tense “Is” in her show’s title is important — but this event demanded immediate, same-day attention. Only three performances remained in Electile’s sold-out four-week run, yet Braithwaite felt this was an extraordinary gold mine that could not be ignored.

“It was wildly exciting,” Childs told me. “So explosive; so thrilling; so vulgar.”

The cast meetings were collaborative sessions where everyone contributed ideas. Braithwaite’s colleagues were Tracie Higgins, Will Dennis and Owen Robbins. Child’s gang included Don Montrey, Alex Bechtel, Nia-Samara Benjamin, Sean Close, Dave Jadico, Justin Jain, and Daniel O’Neil.

They considered questions about how raw and specific to be. And how could the companies prepare for additional news that might develop? What if Trump quit the race, as semmed possible that weekend?

1812’s show included the Trump Family Singers performing “So Long, Farewell” from The Sound of Music. New verses could be added to it, but Childs was concerned because it was in her first act, and how could anything follow it? She revealed that, personally, she’d love to see Trump withdraw but, as a producer, she knew that her show would be more fun if he stayed in the election race.

During the simulated TV newscast that’s a tradition in This Is the Week, head writer Don Montrey started by saying “Our top story tonight — a video was released on Friday featuring Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump saying incredibly lewd and vulgar things about women. Guess we don’t need those tax returns anymore.” Commenting on Trump’s description of how he makes out with women, Montrey reported, “Because he is a star he can grab them by the pussy whenever he wanted. In his defense, this is the most detailed policy plan that Trump’s laid out during his campaign.”

Braithwaite, in conference with the Act II performers Tracie Higgins and Will Dennis, made an addition to their “This Just In” segment: “Trump grabbing a certain female body part is his way to reach out to women.”

Quoting Trump’s complaint that Bill Clinton said “much worse things” about women when they were playing golf together, Dennis, impersonating Bill, responded that it was untrue: “I don’t play golf any more. The only time I pick up my wood is when Hillary is out of town.”

Braithwaite considered the possibility that Trump would abandon his candidacy and prepared a routine in which he, as Trump, would say he was stepping down from the presidential campaign in order to run for mayor of Ambler because the town was such a “disaster.” Braithwaite’s theater is located on Butler Pike in that small town, so his Trump complained that people from the next suburb were pouring across Butler Pike and he’d build a wall to stop them.

Both of the impresarios said it was fine to quote their lines. It wouldn’t be giving anything away because, from here on, the jokes would be changing day by day.
See our previous reviews of both of these shows, 1812 and Act II.

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