Should anybody be surprised that some of Philadelphia's better actors find their way out of the dense thickets of, say, The Three Sisters, and into the reckless satire of This Is the Week That Is (2014)?
The work may be harder in the heady succession of comedy sketches and songs in this show by 1812 Productions, but it's so much fun actors can be caught laughing at one another as much as Wednesday's opening audience laughed at them.
Written and performed by Jennifer Childs, Scott Greer, Dave Jadico, Aime Kelly, and Alex Bechtel, the show casually slides into its stride by sending up subscription-renewal speeches (it's that season). And, before long, Childs was in the thick of a wonderfully on-target Hillary Clinton bit, ending with the Stephen Sondheim song "I'm Still Here." The political humor suggests Democratic leanings (Rep. Paul Ryan is seen in a photo with the caption, "Get back to work, Grandma!"). TV shows, current and past, are a springboard for the format, not just that distant ancestor of Stephen Colbert, That Was the Week That Was. To Tell the Truth had three contestants claiming to be Chris Christie - one only quotes Bruce Springsteen lyrics, another stonewalls every question - descending into a brawl because none will give up the claim to being the real him.
Whether or not you get the jokes (and you really do have to be up on current events), the playful atmosphere ensures this is a great date night. Because the actors write their own material, they play to their strengths. Cheap shots and bad puns are at a minimum. Public figures aren't really impersonated as much as their personalities are mined in ways that one laughs both at and with the object of satire. As a drag version of Ann Coulter, Bechtel makes virtuosic leaps of logic amid recent weather news: "Tornadoes, Wizard of Oz, Judy Garland, gay agenda, Nazi Germany."
Though performed periodically with new topical material, the 2014 edition was my first. And though the majority of the humor stands up without any past exposure, the show's second half can be mildly bewildering in the presence of anticipatory laughs, when the audience senses what's coming and reacts in advance. I only half got the recurring character of Patsy, the South Philly housewife who is full of opinions; for me, she was too restrained compared to the real-life versions I know.
And restraint is not this show's friend. During some of the more full-out moments, failed lines are saved by their shameless delivery: Thanks to confiding, sidelong glances, the failures are funny. Musical interludes are wonderfully makeshift, Bechtel being an able pianist, with Greer on guitar and Jadico on sax.
This Is the Week That Is
1812 Productions at Plays and Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey St. Through June 1. Tickets: $25-$40. Information: 215-592-9560 or www.1812productions.org.