Cement Roots: 1812 Productions is equal-opportunity political satirist

In the theater company’s play ‘This Is The Week That Is: The Election Special!’, neither Democrats nor Republicans are safe from getting roasted.

At this point, you’ve probably seen Tina Fey as Gov. Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live more times than you can count. You’ve watched Sen. Barack Obama stumble over words. You’ve said “Hallelujah!” that it isn’t raining Sen. John McCain because, really, that would be scary. You’ve exhausted all the political fun that YouTube and The Daily Show have to offer. Well, what’s next?

It’s time for This Is The Week That Is: The Election Special!

The brainchild of 1812 Productions, a local all-comedy theater company, This Is The Week That Is is a political satire like no other. The script changes every night, so the jokes are always fresh – and no one, I mean no one, is safe from the writers’ pens. This Is The Week That Is makes fun of Obama and McCain with equal delight and throws daggers of wit at everyone from Sen. Hillary Clinton to Franklin D. Roosevelt to Jackie O.

Part variety show, part news hour, This Is The Week That Is was originally based on the British TV show That Was The Week That Was, which aired from 1962 to 1963 and featured such groundbreaking comedians as Woody Allen and David Frost in its sketches. It’s easy to see the British influence in This Is The Week That Is – the comedy is more Monty Python’s Flying Circus than Saturday Night Live – quirky and punchy, with lots of outrageous costumes and very vaudeville musical numbers.

Think Palin and McCain singing “A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Rock ’N’ Roll.” Founding Fathers in powdered wigs discussing the benefits of having a “gay” (as in happy) marriage. Palin wearing a swimsuit made out of baby seal to a beauty pageant. Local newscasters going crazy and drinking forties. Obama trying his hand at magic and failing miserably – at magician’s assistant Sen. Joe Biden’s expense.

Standout roles include Tony Braithwaite as a snarky new correspondent and 1812 Productions co-founder and artistic director Jennifer Childs as Patsy, a stereotypical South Philadelphian with a thick accent and a pink Eagles sweatshirt. Childs shares unconventional wisdom about local and national politics from her stoop at Seventh and Shunk streets.

“I’ve always been amazed by people who say very profound things in a very non-profound way,” she said. “Women in South Philly tend to speak in allegories – they tell stories about their children or their churches, but in telling these stories they say very meaningful, insightful things.”

Also memorable is Anthony Lawton’s take on McCain – his stiff, robotic movements and constipated facial expressions hit the nail on the head. And while Steven Wright doesn’t fully channel Obama, his “son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas” speech does.

While This Is The Week That Is doesn’t write its jokes along party lines, there’s a clear message sent in the final sketch, a performance of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” set against a backdrop of projected images of war and destruction. Among those images is a smiling portrait of McCain – obviously a statement about what could happen if McCain were elected president.

It’s a little heavy-handed, yes, but considering that the rest of the show includes cracks about Obama’s inexperience and Biden’s tendency toward gaffes, I can understand why 1812 Productions would feel the need to send out a strong anti-McCain message at the end of the show. After all, this is an important election, and a bitter one at that. With candidates slinging mud left and right, it’s hard enough to separate the truth from the lies, much less the truth from the comedy.

So what can you expect if you shell out the $30 to see This Is The Week That Is sometime between now and the election?

In addition to a lot of laughs, probably a good number of jokes focused around Palin’s recent remarks about the “real America.”

“Often, what we find the most funny and what provides us with the most material is what angers us the most,” Childs said.

And while she’s no Tina Fey, Childs’ Palin impersonation is worth a Saturday night trip to the Plays & Players Theatre for a showing of this comedic romp.

Anna Hyclak can be reached at anna.hyclak@temple.edu.

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