The full cast of Barack Stars
photo by Colin Hovde
Barack Stars isn’t a play or a musical – it’s almost two hours of sketch comedy that has a general but not terribly specific theme. I don’t say that as a judgment – I just want us to have our definitions in line. We can’t really talk about the script, overt or implied themes, or much of anything else we might use to rate a play. The performers aren’t really called upon to inhabit a character and make us empathize or connect with them; if anything, too much nuance is a detriment when you’re trying to do an impression. It’s called a sketch for a reason.
So when talking about this production I’m lifting from my beloved Filmspotting (which I believe they said they lifted from someone else) and making a determination about if it’s good or not based on only one thing: Did it make me laugh?
The cast of Seth Weitberg, Abby McEnany, Lilly Allison, Tim Sniffen, Brooke Bagnall & Sam Richardson are all great. Richardson gets a little more focus since he’s the only performer with any quantity of melanin and is therefor called upon to play the Barack role but everyone cycles on and off the stage and share in bringing the funny. Anything that falls flat isn’t the fault of the performers.
For certain, some things do fall flat. Part of that is purely a matter of taste – not everyone has the same sensitive spots on their funnybone and a goodly portion of the audience would be roaring while the rest of us were just smiling. It’s to the show’s credit that I can only think of one sketch that simply failed to engage the audience – a torch song number supposedly sung by Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter. It’s tempting to blame that on the fact that Seth Weitberg has about the mass of Limbaugh’s left leg and Brooke Bagnall might come up to Coulter’s shoulder but really it’s more that the piece is a little too partisan-feeling. Even if you agree with the song’s premise that Coulter and Limbaugh are “still awful” it’s a little too much like the political version of “wow, sure it hot out there, huh?”
That’s not to say this is a strictly leftist show kicking around the minority party. Everyone gets their licks and, like the Limbaugh&Coulter piece, it’s pretty much broad strokes. Two of the biggest laugh-getters involved mocking Obama’s celebrity and Rahm Emanuel’s reputation as a hot-tempered hard-ass. It might take someone who’s a bit more of a policy wonk to really revel in sketches where Emanuel demands obedience or he’ll steal your kidney but pretty much anyone can find the chuckles in a folk song promising that Obama will make puppies rain from the sky and shoot rainbows out his eyes. When sketches hang their hat on things like Biden’s loose lips and Emanuel’s temper they still manage to bring enough generic funny that anyone is going to find something to laugh at.
That’s ALSO not to say that this show isn’t sitting happily off on the left side of the road well clear of the center. If you ever sat behind your tv and thought “man, I’d vote for that Buchanan guy if he’d just stop being such a softie” this is not the place for you. You either, Glen Beck. You’ve been warned.
Everyone else is pretty certain to have a good time.
Barack Stars, performed by Chicago’s Second City Comedy Theater
at Woolly Mammoth Theater through August 2, 2009
641 D St NW
Washington, DC 20004
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