If you're a fan of 1812 Productions' annual send-up of the year's news
This Is the Week That Is
, don't miss the current edition, which opened Wednesday at Plays & Players Theatre. And if you're a fan of satire and have never seen the show before, well, this is your year.
This Is the Week That Is, a satirical revue that changes a bit nightly depending on the news and on what worked the night before, is well suited to the theater company, whose mission is comedy and whose roots dig deeply into improv. But the formula - this is the company's fifth year presenting the show - was getting a tad tired, as were the jokes.
This year, though, This Is the Week That Is seems fresh as the day 1812 Productions first embarked on the project, modeled loosely on a weekly NBC-TV show that aired briefly in the '60s and, before that, on the BBC. Its cast members are also its writers, managed by the offstage head writer Don Montrey, and this year their work is woven throughout two acts with a complexity - and, often, a punch - that seems to bubble from a new wellspring.
The skits and blackouts are silly, funny, dumb, sharp, and high- and low-concept, depending on what minute we're talking about. This range is what seems new about the current production. The show pumps along from minute to minute without any fixed preconception of itself; what you see now is what you get - now. Wait a minute, and it will be different.
That's not to say that the production's old standby routines are gone - impressively, they remain, but in clearer form: The company's artistic director, Jennifer Childs, still does her bit as the know-it-all on her South Philly stoop, but in a well-triggered recording; Tony Braithwaite still anchors the second-act phony news show, focused and funny in spite of national broadcasts that make faux-news routine. And a recorded Thomas E. Shotkin still plays the Catskills comic who filters life through a punch-lined Jewish lens.
The fine performer Alex Bechtel, who mostly provided musical accompaniment on piano and guitar in the past, now has more of a role, and the show is better for his acting. Steven Wright plays Obama, among other roles, better than ever. Susan Riley Stevens is the sole live female on stage, in a number of parts that include a terrific Sarah Palin, in a side-split about what could be her next reality show. Dave Jadico and Scott Greer appear and reappear wonderfully in many guises.
And Jorge Cousineau's video and sound design, normally excellent for the production, is this time remarkable - the recorded work on several screens has a timing that underscores the comic timing of the live action, and the two often meld in an easy mix.
I haven't said much about the content of the skits - I won't give anything away, and for some of them, you have to be there. But look out for the Groundhog Day-ish piece in the first half about the year's more depressing news, which cleverly flashes back and back and back to years gone by. Don't you hate that trite phrase about things changing yet staying the same? Yikes! This time, it actually makes sense.
Presented by 1812 Productions at Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey St., through Dec. 31. Tickets: $20-$35. Information: 215-592-9560 or www.1812productions.org. EndText