By Jenny Neyman
Who has the better plan to steady the national economy? Who is more prepared to handle international affairs? Who will create more jobs? Who best represents the needs of everyday Americans?
Triumvirate Theatre invites audiences to focus on what really matters this election season: Who would win a “North Road Family Feud” skeet-shooting competition, Joe Arness or Cathy Giessel? If given the choice between a Dairy Queen Dilly Bar and anything deep-fried from the Pour House, would anyone vote for Herman Cain? Who hasn’t mistaken Rep. Kurt Olson for a teddy bear?
These and other important questions will be considered in Triumvirate Theatre’s biennial “Lame Ducks and Dark Horses” political satire show, to be performed this weekend and next at the theater in the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna.
The show takes a lighter look at all those who might take themselves too seriously when running for office, on the national, state and local level. Satire can be a particularly welcome reprieve from an election season as charged as this has been, for voters to take a break from the serious issues facing the country and break up laughing from some of the serious ridiculousness inherent in the political circus.
“There’s nothing funny in policy, in real positions. It’s the antics of this political system that we have, and the antics of the people that are wrapped into that system and have to use that system to advance their political positions,” said Joe Rizzo, director of “Lame Ducks and Dark Horses.” “It’s not funny to come out and say, ‘Man, Sean Parnell, he sure is a stooge for the oil companies.’ There’s nothing funny about that, even if you think that’s the case. But it is funny having someone playing Sean Parnell singing (to the tune of Willie Nelson’s ‘On the Road Again’), ‘On the right again. I just can’t wait to move to the right again.’ Now that’s funny.”
Triumvirate stages “Lame Ducks” every two years — for presidential elections and midterm elections. This year, anticipating a busy fall, Rizzo started writing the script during the summer, early in the campaign season.
“That works for some things, because some are age-old, always-funny, always-out-there humor,” he said.
The Republican Primary did not disappoint, offering plenty of spoof-worthy material for parody songs and comedic skits. But as the show started rehearsals a few weeks ago, it became clear the script needed some updates.
“Some of (the material) was already being forgotten. It wasn’t working anymore. We had to go back and take more current things happening right now and pad the script with those things,” Rizzo said.
While last-minute script revisions could be cause for stress, this year, however, the statewide and general elections have offered plenty of joke-worthy material from which to choose. It’s a fertile year, indeed, for political comedy when even the rich fodder of the lead-up to August’s Republican Primary is supplanted by still more spoof-worthy antics.
“Now the stuff is coming fast and furiously, so we’re trying to adapt every day for the new stuff coming, like ‘binders full of women.’ (Mitt Romney’s gaffe in his second presidential candidate debate.) Who would ever dream there would be something more ridiculous than Herman Cain? But there it is, right there in the debates.”
Many of the “Lame Ducks” standard skits are back, updated with new material. The endlessly clueless Java Girls once again find themselves interacting with notable political figures, this time as they help launch the re-opening of Soldotna’s Dairy Queen.
And the “Loon Hour” political debate returns, with perennial guests Don Young and Sean Parnell continuing their never-ending grudge match, joined by a likewise rowdy crew, including Missouri Congressman Todd Aikin, Lesil McGuire and others.
“‘Loon Hour’ is always very topical because it’s all based on what’s going on on a national level, the state level and local level. We have all these people in this forum that would never be together — the mayor of Homer, Don Young, a congressman from Missouri. What qualifies you is something loony you did during election season, and this year we are packed full of loons,” Rizzo said.
New features this year include an episode of “North Road Family Feud,” a “Twilight zone” imagining of what life would be like if Fred Sturman had beaten Mike Navarre for the Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor’s seat and been able to indulge his desire to cut anything not nailed down (and even some things that are), and an ending musical review number with both aisles of the Legislature rumbling to the tune of “Tonight” from “West Side Story:”
“We’re gonna caucus tonight. We’re gonna vote it up and have us a ball. They’re gonna lose it tonight. The more they talk it up the more the polls fall… .”
Music is an expanded element this year, with Troubadour North providing a live accompaniment to the parody songs.
“We’re going to have a whole live band there backing up the songs, plus to play before the show and after the show. So that’s going to really make it a really fun evening,” Rizzo said.
As usual, though, actual politics matters much less than parody.
“We are no respecters of political position. Whichever one gives us the best comedy, that’s who we go with,” Rizzo said. “There have been shows where someone comes up to me and says, ‘Wow, you can sure can tell you were leaning Republican.’ And at that same show someone said, ‘Wow, you sure can tell that liberal bias coming out.’ So people will get out of it what they bring into it.”
The point isn’t to stir serious consideration of political issues, much less to sway anyone’s opinions.
“Honestly, I don’t think that anybody could believe that ‘Lame Ducks and Dark Horses’ is going to change anybody’s vote. If we have that kind of power, wow. I’m going to have to rethink the way we’re writing these shows,” Rizzo said.
The point is to appreciate the ridiculousness of election season — respectfully, though. Last show, two years ago, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, then in the middle of a write-in campaign to retain her Senate seat, came to watch the cast perform a parody spoof of her singing, “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.” This year’s show has another roster of cameo appearances planned. When candidates are good enough sports to participate, Rizzo said that the cast is careful not to push the comedy too far.
“When we get folks like that to do the show, especially if it’s a politician or candidate who hasn’t done the show before, we have to ensure them we would never do anything to embarrass a candidate who came to be in the show. All of the humor in the show is relatively gentle humor, particularly when it comes to local politicians. Our opinion is that anyone dedicated enough and brave enough to run for public office deserves some respect just for doing that,” he said.
“Lame Ducks and Dark Horses” will be performed at 7 p.m. this Friday and Saturday and next, Oct. 26 and 27 and Nov. 2 and 3. Tickets are $15 at the door or in advance at the Triumvirate Bookstore in the Peninsula Center Mall.
“It’s a great time, everybody should come,” Rizzo said. “‘Lame Ducks and Dark Horses’ is really kind of a tribute to the American system and also to the people who are out front and running for office and doing these things that they think is making the country a better place. But the most important thing is if they are doing enough wacky stuff, if our audiences get to laugh. That’s really the point, is to laugh at this whole spectacle of politics.”