Friday, December 26, 2014

Review: 'This Is the Week That Is

1812 Productions' annual spoof concentrates this year on skewering the presidential campaign season -- and does so hilarious style. Inquirer theater critic Howard Shapiro reviews.

Review: 'This Is the Week That Is

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By Howard Shapiro
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

It was only two hours until Wednesday night’s presidential-race debate, and another political debate was just beginning on the stage at Plays & Players Theatre, where the six cast members of This Is the Week That Is had declared themselves undecided voters, and set out to explore the issues.

And what an exploration it is! I’ve seen many versions of 1812 Productions’ annual This Is the Week That Is, a satire on news and life in general, and this year’s “Election Special” is the funniest and meatiest I can recall. It brings much needed balance to this election year — two-plus hours of laughter, and I mean some big ones, skewering the race for the White House.

So if you’re a political junkie — or if you just need a break from all the real health-care/Medicare/Social Security/job-creation/sour-economy chatter — this is for you.

I refuse to spoil the show’s many little surprises, all funnier if you don’t know what’s coming. But I have to tell you about one of the longest curtain speeches I’ve heard — you know, before the beginning of the show, when you’re told to turn off the cellphone, unwrap the candies, and contribute to the theater company. It’s given by 1812’s talented Jennifer Childs, who directs the show and is its chief writer, with Greg Nix. (The show is amended nightly to reflect the day’s news.)

First, Childs delivers the typical. As soon as it’s over, a disembodied voice comes from the balcony. It’s Thomas E. Shotkin, the stage manager — but here he’s a political consultant, and he’s not all that happy. Childs has played very well, he tells her, to certain members of the audience, not to others. She understands, begins the speech a different way, and gets another reading. On and on it goes, as she plays to the backgrounds, sympathies, and political stripes of every possible voter in the theater.

It’s all in fun and very funny — and like much of This Is the Week That Is, it’s also dead-on commentary in which both candidates are fairly and equally mocked. You see that early on, in a visit to the homes of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney (masterfully portrayed by Reuben Mitchell and Dave Jadico), at which their wives (the excellent Aimé Donna Kelly and Childs) set the agenda.

There’s so much more, electrified by Michael Long's video design on large screens at either side of the stage. Alex Bechtel, as fine a musician as he is an actor, provides the musical accompaniment and many of the laughs, and Don Montrey is the full-speed-ahead “newscast” anchor.

All of them play many roles, including the funniest portrayal imaginable of a large New Jersey governor. Barbs fly right down to the last skit, in which Childs gives her opinions as Patsy, the South Philly stoop sitter who is a staple of these shows. At the finale, the cast accompanies itself in a serious version of the ’70s song “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.” Whatever is funny, they’ll find it.

Contact Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727, hshapiro@phillynews.com, or #philastage on Twitter.

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This Is the Week that Is: Produced by 1812 Productions and playing through Nov. 4 at Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey Pl. Tickets: $22-$38. Information: 215-592-9560 or www.1812productions.org.

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About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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