For the eighth year, 1812 Productions offers a holiday show, and this time, the homage is to the old television show
That Was the Week That Was,
affectionately known as
a political variety show.
This Is the Week That Is: Political Humor for the Holidays, now at the Adrienne Theatre, uses the same format-skits, songs, and imitations as the TV show to skewer the current political scene.
Current is the operative word here; This Is the Week is updated daily, depending on what news breaks and what seems ripe for satire. In this year of presidential campaigning and debating, with a mayor-elect, the war in Iraq, the nah-forget-about-it in Iran, the street violence in Philadelphia, the Larry Craig hoo-ha, and the holiday season, there is no shortage of material. They even included the British teacher who had just - I saw a preview - been released from prison in Sudan that morning.
Some of the show is really funny, some of it is clever, some of it falls flat, and none of it is shocking. Great political satire can make you gasp (did they really say that?). There is smiling, certainly, chuckling yes, knowing nodding likely, but gasping no. The show makes nobody nervous, offends nobody (except maybe some medieval peasants who were not noticeably in attendance, and, perhaps, some diehard W. loyalists).
The show begins with Jen Childs on video: "Talking Politics With Patsy" is a delicious bit, with Childs sitting on her steps in South Philly, trying to find out if it's important that the next president be funny. Somehow 1812 managed to get an impressive list of high-profile politicos to participate (I won't spoil the surprises).
The second act is much more entertaining than the first. After Scott Greer's dull routine about which candidate is like which cheese, after a Gallagher & Sheen routine that lets the irresistible Tony Braithwaite do impressions of past presidents (his Carter is especially good), after Dave Jadico does an uninteresting Burr Tillstrom "hand ballet" about the Berlin Wall, they turn their attention to the history of the protest song.
This portion of the show could be headlined: "Liberal Theater Company Shoots Self in Foot." Why mock your heroes? Backed by thrilling photos of the huge crowds that protested the war in Vietnam, the cast, complete with guitars and harmonicas, sings a medley of songs you'd really like to hear, like "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" (whoever told Mary Carpenter she could sing, much less sing as well as Joan Baez?), and snippets of songs by Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and Phil Ochs. 1812's point is that the protest song has become as extinct as political dissent; the company ridicules contemporary society's obsession with celebrity gossip and techno toys, but this is hardly a biting or original insight.
The running gag of Bush calling Iraq and getting its voice-mail machine is genuinely funny, as is the lampooning of the silly local news programs with their vacant anchors and their cutesy stories. Scott Greer does a clever routine as the designer of the new Bush Library - complete with an Abu Ghraib photo booth - although his cliche swishy stuff seems unnecessary and compromises the wit of the material.
All in all, it's a jolly evening, although you won't go home saying, "Can you believe they said that?"
This Is the Week That Is: Political Humor for the Holidays
Written and directed by Jennifer Childs. Musical director, Eric Ebbenga. Set by Dave Jadico, costumes by Charlotte Cloe Fox Wind, lighting by Stephen Keever, video and sound by Jorge Cousineau.
Cast: Tony Braithwaite, Mary Carpenter, Dave Jadico, Scott Greer, Steven Wright (all cowriters as well)
Playing at Adrienne Theatre, 2030 Sansom St. Through Jan. 13. Tickets $12-$34. Information: 215-592-9560 or www.1812productions.org