BWW Reviews: Beltway Politics at Capital Fringe? Feffer Brilliantly Mixes Them with THE POLITICIAN
Theatre and international affairs. Ah, my two loves. In this sense, I am probably the best and worst audience member (and perhaps, in this case, also critic) for The Politician, Washington think tank insider/journalist/playwright John Feffer's satire of the aggravating but ultimately irresistible punditry and politics that go on in our fair town. It's plausible that I may be predisposed to liking it - by virtue of the subject matter - or not liking it because I feel like it does not perfectly capture my world in an intellectually sound yet engaging way. Having a critic come in with those pre-determined thoughts of what a piece 'should be' certainly is not fair to the cast and creative team so I tried, hard as I might, to put all those aside.
Avid Fringegoers are likely to remember Feffer's entry into last year's festival, The Pundit, which was met with rave reviews and sold out performances (and yes, I missed it). Those who did not have a chance to catch this piece last year have one to do so this year because it - along with a sequel - make up the two act play that's currently in production.
We meet pundit Peter Peters (Sean Coe) at a television studio in DC. He's a not so attentive father to his son Joey (Conor Scanlan) and husband to busy lawyer Alice Peters (Lisa Hodsoll). A senior employee at The Center (enter jokes about the name of the think tank and its multiple meanings) and director of International Affairs, he has visions of being among Washington's elite and holding a key position in the State Department (enter jokes about short lists for political appointments). Like most days, he's off to do an interview about the crisis of the day (Syria) using talking points and achieving the fine balance of saying something that vaguely represents informed opinion without really saying much at all. Suddenly, he finds himself in a predicament. The topic of discussion is not what his bumbling but well-connected intern (Conor Scanlan) told him, but rather an obscure terrorist group in an obscure country Khazaria (that he previously could not find on a map) that just committed an attack. He is a self-proclaimed counterterrorism expert, so why not? Scrambling, he spouts of highly generalized information about why terrorists usually do what they do and what they want. The average American won't know the difference right? It's not like the discussion will haunt him forever and hopefully no one who really matters in achieving his political ambition will really care.
Only it does haunt him - in more ways than one. His false move leaves him embroiled in terrorist plots, threatens his family, and causes all kinds of problems for his place in the small world that is Washington where everyone has a 'shit list, ' is vying to take someone down, and remembers every mistake if it suits their purpose. The mistake follows him to the State Department where four years later he's achieved his political glory, but at a cost. Will he ever escape it?
The show pretty much has everything. A scheming terrorist leader Ruslan X (Ethan Kitts), a couple of driven females who will do pretty much anything to achieve a place of political prominence (Morganne Davies and Sarah Strasser), a couple of news show hosts (also Davies and Strasser), and of course the intellectual elite (Michael Crowley) and an archetype character representing the talk show personalities outside of the Beltway in America's heartland (also Crowley). Seems like everything but the kitchen sink, right? In lesser hands? Yes, absolutely. However, Feffer is so intimately familiar with the going-ons in both the think tank and political circuits and can brilliantly connect the two so that it's all pretty much seamless. While some may argue that act II is a bit redundant in terms of plot devices (which won't be spoiled here because then you'll miss the fun of seeing it live) and jokes about obscure countries, jockeying for positions, idiosyncrasies in the English language (which the terrorist brings up), and DC vs. well, everywhere else, I find the play extraordinarily well-constructed. It astutely reveals that in DC, the more things change the more they stay the same in a witty, fun, yet educational way.
A strong cast is also a key ingredient to the success of the production. Coe is perfectly cocky and driven as the dislikable Peters who is not quick to admit error and Scanlan, as intern Robert, is appropriately mostly clueless yet knowledgeable in ways you might not expect. Crowley, Davies, and Strasser demonstrate incredible versatility at the turn of a dime taking on supporting characters as diverse as a social-climbing secretary who realizes sexual charm is an asset, a Texan radio host, a British and highly-educated journalist, a vacant newscaster, an ambitious hard-nosed politician devoid of regard for humanity, and a curious journalist. Kitts is rational yet maniacal as Ruslan X and Hodsoll is the epitome of educated Washington wife seeking a balance with career and family. They all shine as individuals but also comprise a perfectly tight ensemble.
Go, just go....it's delightful for those interested in poking fun at life here.
Running Time: 2 hours.
The Politician has two more performances in this year's Capital Fringe Festival. For tickets and further show information, visit the Capital Fringe website.
Graphic: Courtesy of Production.