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, firstname.lastname@example.org, or #philastage on Twitter.
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.