SON OF A BUSH:
LAUGH UNTIL IT HURTS?
Produced by Gross National Product
Reviewed by John Atcheson
Question: Can you take the non-stop tragedy of the Bush Presidency, the longest, most heavily scripted presidential campaign in history – featuring a Hillary Clinton who feels strongly about both sides of every issue — and make it funny?
Answer: you can if you’re John Simmons and Christine Thompson of Gross National Product.
Son of a Bush, GNP’s latest send off of political life in Washington, plays Saturday nights at the Warehouse Theater until December 31st. The two person troupe mixes scripted pieces with audience participation and improvisation to skewer Bush, Hillary, Cheney, K-Street, the pharmaceutical industry, and the self-help movement – and maybe, just maybe, all the rest of us.
The show opens with Simmons doing a hilarious parody of the President. Malapropisms fly. Bi-polar support, catatonic denials, and Pappy Bush’s desire for a kinder, gentile nation. As with all great satire, Simmon’s rant reveals truths and exposes hypocrisies even as it gets laughs.
Thompson literally channels Hillary in a faux debate and later in a solo set. The material is good, Thompson’s portrayal superb, but it’s hard to make Hillary Clinton funny. Watching the real Hillary talk is like looking at one of those watches with a transparent back – you can see all the pieces ceaselessly working, working, working. As a result, Hillary is about as exciting as observing water freeze.
But by dint of good material, and hard work, Thompson manages to get some laughs. For example, when she says “in the time I’ve been talking I’ve raised $30 million,” or when she caps off a discussion of gay marriage with a series of gender identity jokes ending with “I’m in a same sex marriage myself.” And she reproduces “the laugh,” a kind of brittle cackle Hillary has been using to inject some faux spontaneity into her campaign, with aplomb.
Bush, on the other hand, is like watching a train with no tracks – you know sooner or later it’s gonna crash, and in the meantime, it meanders around without any coherent direction. It’s a satirist’s motherload, and Simmons mines it expertly.
Audience participation and improvisation is a high wire act – it takes great skill, and it’s high risk, and for the most part, Thompson and Simmons pull it off. They show an impressive knowledge of current events when they invite questions from the audience and then launch into impromptu rifts on the latest inside-the-beltway follies that often strikes gold.
The show slows a bit when they take on the K Street lobbyists with a skit about the tobacco, liquor and firearms lobbies. This triumvirate of greed was lampooned by Christopher Buckley in Thank You for Smoking, and it’s hard to improve on that. Satire of this sort demands a light touch and Simmons and Thompson’s rendition is anything but extraordinary.
On the other hand, Thompson’s physical pantomime of the side-effects of the latest drug – read in perfect simulation of the familiar rapid-fire lawyerese by Simmons – is a short trip to comedy heaven, and makes those bland disclaimers we barely hear come to life. Literally.
Their manic send-off of the self-help industry produces a few laughs, but it drifts towards polemic.
Thompson and Simmons work hard for laughs and earn them with a combination of sly satire and straight out physical labor. By the end of the set, both are drenched, and you feel as if you’ve watched a sporting event; maybe a marathon.
They’re at their best when they focus on the political follies of our leaders and would-be leaders, and one wishes they mined that rich vein a little more deeply.
But if you’re looking for an antidote for Bush’s interminable Presidency, and what’s shaping up to be the longest presidential campaign in history, you might just get on down to the Warehouse Theatre and catch Gross National Product’s Son of a Bush.
When: thru Dec 31. Saturdays at 8 pm
Where: Warehouse Theater . 1017 7th St NW, Washington, DC (across from the east side of the Convention Center)
Tickets: $30; $25 seniors; $20 students
Info: Call 202 783-7212 or order thru the website.
Guest Reviewer John Atcheson has written extensively on politics and policy and he is a regular contributor to the progressive news site, Common Dreams. His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, The San Jose Mercury News as well as several other leading newspapers and inside-the-beltway wonk magazines.