Washington DC has quite a rich tradition in political satire, from local legends The Capitol Steps to one-off play commissions at local theaters like Signature to niche private functions only advertised by whispers. City in a Swamp Productions aims to be the next topical phenomenon with pastiche political musical revues and their most recent foray into the field Apocalypse Soon. With their short skit-based formula taking shots at seemingly easy targets in the Trump administration and pre-midterm voter tumult, they’ve proven just how hard political satire is in this town.
Opening rough and cold with a first scene at an anger management class filled with a variety of voters with unique disgruntlement, Apocalyspse Soon hits its first roadbump even before the production begins with uncomfortable and unthoughtful audience interactions with the characters. None of the characters in this revue presents the specificity that satire demands to be forged into comedy. There’s Bart, the classic conspiracy-spewing Trump voter, to Amanda, his gesticulating pussy-hat-wearing counterpart, to Eugenia, a Latinx immigrant with diction straight out of a now-cringeworthy ‘90’s SNL sketch. The cast has evident raw talent, committing hard to overly convoluted explanations for their anger and equally simplified versions of rewritten musical standards. They’ve simply been garmented in characters that no one could pull off with style.
Caitlin Hart, the LA-based director, and Nick Zill, the writer, have left these actors flopping in the wind with totally whiffed transitions, like the one after that opening scene which literally consisting of Bart, chanting and spelling Trump’s name while failing to get the audience to chant along. I get the sneaking suspicion that the creative team, with an overly long scene transition on their hands, asked the actor to do the bit 15 minutes before the show started.
closes November 6, 2018
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The look doesn’t improve with the next section, where truly abysmal impressions of popular political figures again emphasize that specificity is the key to hilarity in satire. None of the actors pick up on the real quirks of their marks, the most distinct example being Justin McEllroy, who fails to make President Trump his own, but rather just an imitation of Alec Baldwin’s SNL Trump. The lack of nuance and originality is universal, to the point where I question whether strong-singing Emily Goglia has actually seen any footage of Melania Trump, who she “imitates” with a send up of Stormy Weather. Quite predictably, the song’s subject of Stormy Daniels steps on rhyme and rhythm with a combination of hamminess and ham-handedness that lets any of Godli’s real comic opportunities pass by.
The funniest bit of the whole show, literally the only part that drew an actual laugh from me, was a borrowed vaudeville routine where President Trump gets trapped in a mirror by his trickster reflection. The reversal has no consequences whatsoever in the arc of the show, such as it is. It is simply left hanging, as is the audience. The laughter it garnered quickly wilts as well, and all hope of a turnaround is lost, when Reflected Trump, as he’s called in the program, uses a mock-retarded dialect. Who thinks that this is a good idea? What audience finds this funny?
The one I was in, evidently.
I honestly felt gaslighted throughout this entire production by the audience’s laughter. I don’t think I have lost my ability to be entertained and humored by musical comedy or satire, but this production made me feel as if I had. Perhaps they were intoxicated by the complimentary brunch beforehand, which I can easily assert is the pinnacle of this experience, full of delicious variety and effectively bottomless. And at $40, its actually a pretty good deal. My advice is to pay for the food, eat your fill, and skip the show.
Apocalypse Soon by Nick Zill. Directed by Caitlin Hart. Featuring Hadiyyah Noelle Smith, Travis Joe Dixon, Emily Goglia, Jessica Amal, Justin McEllroy, Chris Lewis, and Emily Goglia. Costume Design by Randi Young. Stage Management by Hope Villanueva. Piano Accompaniment by Barbara Twigg. Produced by Nick and Karen Zill, City in a Swamp Productions at Arts Club of Washington. Reviewed by Alan Katz.