This show is Art with a capital “A”. It is awe-inspiring. It is life-changing. As the actors inform us in the prologue, it may, in fact, be “the most important piece of theatre you will ever experience.”
Just kidding. This show is ridiculous.
The company that brought us last summer’s Amelia Earhart…IN SPACE! returns with another zany take on a notable barrier-breaking woman in history. In case the title didn’t tip you off, if you are looking for an historical portrayal of Margaret Thatcher this is definitely not the show for you. But if you’re looking to kick back and enjoy a few easy laughs, I’m Margaret Thatcher, I Is! fits the bill.
The play opens on April 20, 2006, which the cast informs us is most certainly NOT the day before Margaret Thatcher is going to drown in her bath tub (no, the actual Thatcher didn’t die in a bath tub, or even die in that year). The alternative facts of the former British Prime Minister’s life only get more bizarre from there.
In a production note, playwrights David Koenigsberg and Zack Walsh note “we know essentially nothing about Margaret Thatcher, nor do we care to learn.” As a result, the cast has no qualms about taking us on an invented journey through Thatcher’s life as she toils as a child laborer in a coal mine, loses her right hand as a soldier during World War II, and exerts a surprising amount of influence on the British music scene, among other misadventures.
I’m Margaret Thatcher, I Is!
closes July 21, 2017
David Koenigsberg and Zack Walsh also perform in the play. Joined by Aria Velz, each takes an energetic turn at portraying Margaret Thatcher in what are essentially three related monologues. Each performer reflects on a different stage of Thatcher’s life. Koenigsberg uses his musical skills (I use the word “skills” loosely) to describe young Maggie’s tragic childhood in the mines. Walsh reminisces about the years of “THE WAR”–always stated solemnly, with ominous music booming overhead. And Velz depicts Thatcher’s drug-addled decline (no, of course the actual Thatcher wasn’t addicted to horse tranquilizers…at least as far as anybody knows).
When the actors aren’t taking their turn as Margaret Thatcher, they are busy serving as a deliberately slapdash set and costume crew, whose antics during the on-stage costume changes and prop deliveries provide some of the biggest laughs of the show.
All three actors are clearly enjoying themselves but keep admirably straight faces as they frolic about delivering their absurd lines, peppered with any words that sound remotely British: haberdashery, tuppence, the made-up and rather overused “poppyhoffer.” And how would we know we’re in England if not for heavy use of garden-variety British swear words and multiple Harry Potter references? The cast shines brightest when they engage in physical comedy, much of which stems from Thatcher’s difficulty in using her fake right hand.
For the most part, the actors’ enthusiasm and commitment to the silliness of their tale is infectious, and even the most goofy bits provoke some laughter along with eye rolls. But the show has too many points where the writers got carried away with their ridiculous gimmicks. Even the funniest gags become tedious on their fourth repetition. Several times the show bogs down in moments that were clearly funnier to the playwrights as they were being devised than they are to the uninitiated audience. The show always manages to get back on track, thanks in part to quick pacing by director Lucette Moran. But in the type of show that really needs to be laugh-a-minute, the occasional lull is unfortunate.
The show is bookended by a satirical commentary on the importance of art, which insures that the audience understands that this show is dumb, and its creators know it. It is risky to create something purposely foolish and to constantly remind the audience that your show is inaccurate, unnecessary, and irreverent. In this case, though, the nonsense mostly works to provide an hour of laughs.