By Jenny Neyman
It’s down-to-the-wire time as Nov. 4 approaches. Campaign signs dominate the landscape. Election rhetoric is omnipresent. Speeches are being perfected. Images are being tweaked. Digs and jabs at opponents are being sharpened. Song-and-dance routines are being polished. All the last-minute stops are being pulled out to catch attention.
That’s not only the case for candidates. The performers of Triumvirate Theatre’s “Lame Ducks and Dark Horses” political satire show are rehearsing their lines for Friday’s opening night as frantically as a candidate in the homestretch of the election.
It’s hard to say which is funnier at this point — the sketches as written, lampooning some of the biggest quirks, quips and personalities of this year’s election season — or the sidebar comments made while preparing them.
“Am I supposed to be screaming because I’m getting attacked by a bear, or because someone wants me to go on Sound Off?” said Chris Pepper, seeking clarification during a sketch where he plays Thom Walker, the one-time Libertarian nominee for U.S. Senate, trying to survive in the literal wilds of Alaska as well as the political wilds as a third-party candidate.
“Wait, are you going to talk like you’re on helium the whole time?” director Joe Rizzo asked Dan Pascucci, playing, at that moment, an agitated Matt Wilson, KSRM’s general manager, berating news director Catie Quinn for not being able to drop her Australian accent in pronouncing the radio station’s call letters. A “My Fair Lady,” “Wouldn’t it be loverly” riff ensues.
“Yes,” Pascucci replied. “I’ll probably pass out, but it will be hilarious.”
Triumvirate has been doing “Lame Ducks” every other year since 2006, creating each show from scratch to parody whatever is making news, raising eyebrows and rolling eyeballs that election year. The actors onstage poke fun at people on the local, statewide and national stage, and the donations of humor are doled out evenly between the parties.
“Humor is the highest value, not the politics,” Rizzo said.
This year’s show is a full one, with an hour and a half running time packed with sketches, sarcasm, sight gags, impressions, singing and dancing. In part that’s because this election season has presented more than the usual fodder to ridicule.
“It was a particularly rich year,” Rizzo said. “We love the two Sullivans — that’s comedy gold. Two candidates for two different offices in the same election year both named Dan Sullivan, that’s manna from heaven.”
“And just when you think the Palins have faded from the spotlight, they come roaring back,” he said, referring to an alcohol-fueled brawl the family was reportedly involved in at party they attended at a home in South Anchorage in September. “I heard that on the radio as I was driving to work and I headed straight for Carla’s (Jenness, both are teachers at Nikiski Middle-High School) room. As soon as I walked into her classroom that morning she says, ‘I’m on it. I’m working on it right now.’ Carla really wanted to retire the red blazer this year. She’s getting tired of playing Sarah, but I said, ‘This is too rich. You’re going to have to dust off the red blazer.’”
And the comedy is particularly fresh this year, as the writers waited until fall to come up with their material.
“Last time around I wrote most of it and I wrote it all summer, so a lot of the stuff that we got to by the time we opened was kind of old,” Rizzo said. “So this time around I really didn’t write much this summer. I wrote a lot of the parody songs this summer, but as far as the stuff that reflects what’s going on right now we wrote in the last month.”
And it’s a more democratic process this year, with more writers involved — Rizzo as well as Chris and Carla Jenness and Pascucci. That’s been a pleasant sharing of the burden for all involved, allowing everyone more opportunity to just enjoy themselves.
“When you’re writing and running the show you put off putting your stuff together until the very end because you’re so busy getting the show together. That’s a little challenging,” Rizzo said. “So there tends to be a lot of improv. It’s like, who knows what plot turns might happen? But that’s the fun of live theater, the sketch is never the same way twice.”
The cast includes the show’s regular candidates — Joe and Paulene Rizzo, Chris and Carla Jenness, Rob Ernst, Terri Burdick, Pascucci and Pepper — as well as some new “Lame Ducks and Dark Horses” — Brian Lyke, Helena Johnson, Nettie Keller, Kate Schwarzer and Delana Duncan.
“It’s been really nice to get some young blood into this cast,” Rizzo said. “When we get to the next presidential election we’ll have been doing this show for 10 years. We’re the Don Youngs of political satire, we’ve been around that long. Pretty soon I’ll be playing Don Young and will be Don Young’s age.”
The newcomers were recruited for not only their acting ability, but their musical prowess, as well. That has translated into more intricate, and more intricate musical numbers in this year’s show.
“We were really blessed to get a bunch of singers out,” Rizzo said. “The trick to a good parody song is it has to be done well in order for it to be funny. The closer it sounds to the real deal, the funnier it is.”
For instance, Johnson, Keller, Schwarzer, Duncan and music coordinator Kristen Dillon do an a cappella parody, “Big Oil,” to the tune of “Royals” by Lorde.
“Those girls are doing some pretty intricate things with harmonies on that,” Rizzo said.
This cast also affords the opportunity to do a big musical number that Rizzo has been pining for, a takeoff on “West Side Story” with Republicans squaring off against the Democrats like the Sharks and the Jets.
“We tried to do that last election, and my cast gave it a really good go but they were like, ‘This is never going to work. We just don’t have the chops to do this.’ This year I recruited really good singers. That made it possible to do some more intricate, cooler things,” he said. “The music part of this has been really rewarding. Like I brought in my banjo, and Dan (Pascucci) just picked it up and has been playing it. It’s been really nice.”
Refined, talented musicianship aside, though, don’t expect highbrow in this show. It’s much
more entertaining to poke fun at campaign sign thefts, tox have show-staple coffee shop girls get confused between peonies and ponies, to have borough mayoral candidate Tom Bearup serenade his teddy bear, borough Mayor Mike Navarre cavort with the rest of his political family in “The Kennedys of Kenai,” and mayoral candidate Carrol Martin sing about his political ambitions to the tune of the “Green Acres” theme.
“You can tell how classy it is by the fact that we have Pabst Blue Ribbon for the Palin sketch,” Rizzo said. “We’re really classing it up!”
“Lame Ducks and Dark Horses” will be performed at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 24, 25, 31 and Nov. 1 at Triumvirate North, five miles north of Kenai, 42715 Kenai Spur Highway. Tickets are $15 and are available online in advance from www.triumviratetheatre.org, and at the door.