This is the Week That Is: Election Special. 1812 Productions, performing at Plays & Players Theatre in Philadelphia, October & November 2016.
Will Rogers used gentle, folksy humor to become famous as a political commentator in the 1920s and ‘30s.
Tom Lehrer and his collaborators on TV’s That Was the Week That Was applied a touch of wry to their political barbs in the 1950s.
But conditions have changed a great deal since then.
Politicians, and one candidate, act like attack dogs. Scrambling to respond strongly are Bill Maher, John Oliver, Lewis Black, Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Samantha Bee and other television pesonalities.
This creates a challenging environment for 1812 Productions’ This Is the Week That Is as it returns for its third presidential campaign. The company, which is dedicated to comedy, likes to gently spoof the foibles of those who run for office.
1812, directed by the company’s artistic director Jennifer Childs, remains good-natured even in this nasty year. The audience reacts with warmth to the reappearance of familiar performers in familiar roles. It makes the experience a welcome respite from all the bitterness that surrounds us.
Especially amusing was the presentation of “the Trump Family Singers” to the melody of “So Long, Farewell” from The Sound of Music, with the diminutive Childs portraying Donald’s youngest son, Barron, and Justin Jain as a wacky Melania.
Dave Jadico was a randy “first ladies man” as Bill Clinton, and Alex Bechtel was a domineering Donald Trump in addition to serving as musical director at the keyboard. Nia-Samara Benjamin and Sean Close were welcome newcomers to the cast.
The most trenchant moment came with the entire cast on stage and we were asked to close our eyes and imagine what would be different in a Trump presidency. When the lights came back on, the two cast members of color had vanished.
Nothing in this offering was outrageous. Rather, we saw a reassuring series of jabs that distracted us from the turmoil outside. You might say that This Is the Week That Is aims to make American politics amiable again.
Childs’s humorous “Patsy” dispensed wisdom from the front stoop of her home on Shunk Street in the heart of South Philly. She seemed to be more pensive than usual. Our political climate has changed, and this longtime observer has good reason to be rueful.
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