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Theatre in Review: Me the People (Triad Theater)

Mia Weinberger, Richard Spitaletta. Photo: CamerArts Events

Subtitled "The Trump America Musical," Me the People wants to do for the current cockeyed state of American politics what Forbidden Broadway has long done for the follies of the Great White Way. Basically, Nancy Holson, who conceived the show with Jim Russek and Jay Falzone, sets new lyrics to well-known tunes, taking on some already all-too-familiar targets with intermittently hilarious results. Thus, a vengeful Betsy DeVos, echoing a certain Beach Boys tune, gleefully informs the audience, "We'll be screwin' your schools!" while flinging vouchers into the house. A gyrating Latina maid, channeling the Eagles, belts, "Welcome to the Hotel Mar-a-Lago" ("Where the Trumps will stay/And your taxes pay"). The Nat King Cole classic "Orange Colored Sky" is, ironically, given to Mike Pence, the whitest man in the Trump Administration -- and that's saying something. He croons, "A man should choose a woman for a mate/Flash, bam, alakazam/I can make a gay guy straight!"

If you call this the greatest-ever fish-in-a-barrel expedition -- well, you won't get any argument from me. But as a serving of fresh red meat for fed-up liberal theatregoers -- if that's not redundant -- it packs a fair amount of bite, and all involved are dedicated to keeping it up-to-date. At the performance I attended a few days ago, a little item titled "How Do You Solve a Problem like Korea?" could have been ripped from the day's headlines. The whole repeal-and-replace debacle is nailed in a sketch featuring a Congressman who excitedly announces, "Good news! The latest poll numbers are in from my district. I'm up to an approval of 11 percent!" -- while his colleagues writhe in jealousy. I have little doubt that, if you attend a few nights after reading this, there will be allusions to Donald Trump, Jr.'s Russian misadventure, not to mention his penchant for self-incriminating tweetstorms.

Under the direction of Jay Falzone (who also choreographed), a cast of fresh faces makes satirical hay with material that, in its original form, often seems to spoof itself. There are two standouts: Mia Weinberger is a riot as Melania Trump, looking like she'd rather be in Slovenia, answering reporters' questions with canned answers and looking notably uncomfortable when asserting, "There is nothing that repulses and enrages me more than a bully." Richard Spitaletta nimbly navigates some fiendish lyrical tongue twisters in a history of the expanding Russian-influence scandal that pays tribute to Ira Gershwin and Kurt Weill's "Tchaikowsky," from Lady in the Dark; he also amuses as Paul Ryan, outfitted with plastic hair, hawking his health care bill. ("It doesn't exactly cover more people. But it is available to them.") He and Weinberger excel as that Teflon power couple, Ivanka and Jared: Weinberger turns Ivanka into is a dead-eyed, flat-voiced princess, singing "Women's rights expanded/That's the way that I am branded" and hawking a jewel-encrusted stuffed animal -- she suggests that the bidding start at "a sensible $10,000" -- while he, clad as Superman, flies off to bring peace to the Mideast. In a riotous parody of "Good Morning," as seen in the film Singin' in the Rain, they tap up a storm as she hands him his brown-bag lunch -- a ham-and-cheese sandwich -- before adding, "I'm sorry, forgot I'm a Jew."

Although given much of the weaker material, Mitchel Kawash makes the most of a Trump diagnosis offered by none other than Sigmund Freud ("Technically speaking, there is overwhelming evidence of malignant narcissism syndrome, a neurosis which can result when there is an imbalance in the fundamental structure of the human mind and the resultant lack of internal controlling mechanisms implicit when the superego fails to regulate the impulsivity of the id, notwithstanding socialization and the ego itself.") Aiesha Alia Dukes is fun as a Supreme Court justice making like Diana Ross and as a pesky reporter who gets deported, despite the fact that she was born in Cincinnati.

Falzone keeps the action pacey, although there is a slightly rough, ragged quality that doesn't always seem intentional. (Stephen Smith's costumes and Shannon Epstein's lighting and sound are on a par with this sort of quick-sketch cabaret entertainment.) The opening, in which four Founding Fathers take to the constitution with a giant bottle of White-Out, doesn't kick things off as well as it should; a running gag about the avian Twitter symbol, which is forever being awakened in the wee hours to deliver Trump's bizarre tweets, simply fizzles. At times, the material already feels picked over by the cast of SNL and television's army of late-night comics.

Still, even if the Donald himself never makes an appearance, the evening reaches a strong climax, with Spitaletta, as Nixon -- the ultimate expert on Washington scandals -- showing up to urge the destruction of any extant tapes -- and Weinberger offering an unexpurgated account of CeeLo Green's "F--- You," to show-stopping effect. Obviously, Me the People will never be tapped as a benefit performance for the Young Republicans National Federation, nor should anyone expect a rave notice from the National Review. But if you're in the mood for a comic takedown of the 45th president and his often bizarre entourage, you'll enjoy some bursts of clarifying laughter. -- David Barbour

(12 July 2017)

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