The Magnificent Hour: Death... by Hilarity
George W. Bush sure does some wacky things. In the Fringe festival, I mean. Though not known as a particular patron of the arts, our current Commander and Chief and his family have inspired a bevy of Fringe shows in the past few years. Some of them silly, some preachy, some, terrifyingly, featuring nudity. However, my fellow Americans, I ask you to draw your attentions to one particular show a show whose hilariousity stands as an inspiration to us all.
I am referring to "The Magnificent Hour", a sketch-comedy and improv inflected piece presented by experimental comedy troupe Etc The premise: The President (Gene Perelson) has a new right hand man, red-caped, eye-patch sporting Attorney General Edward Kang (Chris Chan Roberson), and together they have a great idea for our great nation. For one hour, every American will have the power to kill, or rather, "Make Magnificent", one other American provided they fill out all the correct forms beforehand. A large clock on stage counts down the seconds as we follow various characters through the chaos resulting from the 60 minutes of sanctioned slaughter. Pompous media pundit Elke Pilaf frantically apologizes to thousands of people he's mistreated, to make amends with whomever has named him as their target. A milquetoast bureaucrat hopes to impress his assassin girlfriend by making his first kill. Two bickering anchorpersons cover the mounting hysteria, while Dubya checks in from time to time to comment on the success of this latest national endeavor. All the while, Kang is locked in mental warfare with his nemesis Father Cartier, who espouses forgiveness for all, even in the face of Kangs' gratuitous mur er, magnificence of an entire parochial basketball team.
The quick-fire scenes are sometimes augmented with improvisation. The audience is asked to fill out cards before the show, describing methods of and reasons for killing someone, and the actors will pull one out from time to time and read it out in the scene. This conceit is used sparingly and wittily enough to keep it from ever becoming trite.
While some of the attempted political commentary is somewhat overdone (a bit involving Osama Bin Ladin is one of the few that fail), Perelsons' GWB is scarily funny. He can squint, smirk, and spout meaningless rhetoric better than any SNL hack. Roberson is wonderful to watch in all his roles. Natalie Kim is winning sexy assassin and the acerbic anchorwoman, and Anne Johnson is a great comedienne, playing a croaky-voiced pubescent boy, a dowdy pencil pusher, and a VERY evil scientist, wearing not one, but TWO eye-patches ("I don't actually need these; I had Lasik").
The Etc troupe has a winning combination of smart creators and smart performers in this dark comedy, and I look forward to seeing their future projects. In the meantime, their website, www.magnificenthour.com, offers a number of Magnificent extras, including fake commercials, Kangs' blog, and a downloadable pdf "Kill Form", so you can be ready for your chance to "Get Magnificent".
Bottom: Chris Chan Roberson (foreground), Jamil Ellis, Natalie Kim, Seth Cooperman