In Chief Ike’s Mambo Room, you can buy a substantial iced tumbler full of vodka and Kahlua for the very reasonable price of $8. Thank the Lord God Almighty! Because without cheap and plentiful alcohol, you will be forced to watch Wiener Sausage sober, as I did. It will not be a happy experience.
O.K., hold your breath, here goes. Jo (Kate Nelson), a mighty hermaphrodite who works in the same überstore in which she was born, apparently without parents, suddenly has her lifelong dream of becoming a Washington journalist come true when two anchorfolks (Lauren Ciandella and Andrew Hartman) bring her to the Nation’s Capital. There, President Shrubb (James Irving) has led the country to the brink of war with the Netherlands over the renewables, whatever they are, which are hidden behind Holland’s dikes. The peace movement is led by Openly Gay Senate Minority Leader Keentz (Michael Kaufman), who is nonetheless in the closet about some other issues. Indeed, when his aide Johnny (Carlos Valazquez) discovers Senator Keentz in bed with a sheep, the Senator immediately begins to strangle his ovine companion, and I was compelled to think of the guy who wrote in all upset about my review of The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia. He better not see this; he’ll have apoplexy. Anyway, it turns out that the evil Professor Doctor Schmock (Sean Felix) is behind all this: he means to have the renewables so that he can fly to a star, the core of which is made entirely of diamond. In the meantime, Johnny, also a hermaphrodite, has fallen in love with Jo, and she, or he, with him, or her. All this suits Dr. Schmock’s plans, because… aw, really, who cares?
The book is putrid, made worse because it is self-consciously ironic and camp, calling attention to itself for its badness. For example, Johnny periodically cries out to have the plot explained to him, and Guy Williams (Shelby Sours) steps in at the end to straighten everything out through exposition. But the author (I do not know whether Paul MacKie or Dan Sullivan is responsible for the book, though I suspect the latter) cannot evade responsibility for a bad script by pretending that the badness was the point, any more than Maxwell Smart can shoot himself in the foot and say “I meant to do that.”
As horrible as the book is, the acting is even worse. Irving plays President Shrubb using tones and gestures not seen in public since the days of Amos ‘n’ Andy. Kaufman delivers his lines so quickly, and in such a slurry of words, that he is almost incomprehensible; this has the single advantage of getting the play over with earlier. The remaining actors, in particular Ciandella and Harman, mis-deliver their lines with dismaying regularity. From all these criticisms I explicitly exempt Kate Nelson, who has a voice like an angel and throws herself into her role with puckish good humor. Having her in this play is like hearing Placido Domingo sing the Budweiser jingle, or seeing Ben Kingsley and Derrick Jacoby doing Shear Madness, or watching the Royal Shakespeare Company do Coriolanus. It is unnecessary and a little unsettling as well.
To top things off, the technical is awful. The mics fade on and off; the music periodically drowns out the singers; and we are beset by feedback and buzzing throughout the show. Wisely, sound design is uncredited.
So is there any merit to this exercise at all? Sure. Nelson, as I mentioned, sings beautifully and everyone else is at least competent vocally. The music, while not Sondheim, is listenable. The lyrics are occasionally clever. So here’s some unsolicited advice to Messers. Mackie and Sullivan. Junk the book. Populate the play with folks who can act as well as sing (there’s plenty in Washington). Sign Ms. Nelson to a long contract. And, in the meantime, keep those Black Russians flowing.
- Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
- Tickets: Wiener Sausage: The Musical!
- Remaining Shows: Fri, July 25 at 7:30 . Sat, July 26 at 5
- Where: Chief Ike’s Mambo Room, 1725 Columbia Road NW