We could all wish that the tone of political debate in this country was higher, and the comportment of political figures more respectful. It would be very nice if the current political scene did not lend itself so easily to farce. A media environment unready to engage with a more complex view of matters is another burden. The salacious, potentially scandalous, and clownish is all they will relate to us. Truth be told, in more than some of these situations, well – you just can’t make this stuff up! Which is exactly what Mario Correa understood when he swooped in to collect four political self-destruct stories from recent media headlines, and edited the associated verbatim interviews, emails, instant messages and Tweets into Tail! Spin! now playing as part of the NY Fringe Festival 2012. If comedy could write itself perhaps it comes as close to doing so here, in the bad faith squirming of exposed guilty parties and in their breath-taking narcissistic capers in quest of extra curricular, usually extra marital, sex.
This is sure fire contact with the public funny bone. Satire feeds on the exposure of hypocrisy and there’s something persistently puritanical in the American character that wants to see sexual outlaws shamed in the stocks of the media spotlight. What’s left for Correa to do is some deft editing and weaving together of transcripts and records, pitching towards caustic ridicule. A passed congressional aide and lobbyist himself – which boasts a familiarity with the political spin game – perhaps there’s a note of personal scorn in his treatment of elected subjects here. The unlucky quartet are Sen. Larry “wide stance” Craig; Rep. Mark “underage page” Foley; Gov. Mark “Appalachian trail” Sanford; and Rep. Anthony “sext pix” Wiener. None of these men hold an office today. All came a cropper over matters of private sexual adventuring in non-private environments. Whatever personal motivations spurred them in their actions, there is a hearty lack of individuality in the process by which they attempted media damage control – denial, followed by flanneling, followed by shame-faced confession. Correa drives this home in a finale scene where the guilty parties enact a sort of choral refrain of public mea maxima culpa. This similarity of behavior is perhaps what invites severest public scorn, and contemptuous mirth.
Played quite loosely, almost as a public reading, the show is lucky in having the undeniable talents of five gifted comedic performers in the forms of Sean Dugan (Craig), Dan Hodapp (Foley), Nate Smith (Wiener), Mo Rocca (Sanford), and Rachel Dratch (wives and “tails”). Each player performs multiple roles, standing in as additional embroiled characters and ravenous media figures. Dratch, with her Betty Boop eyes under mournful brows, is a natural cut-up, and she only has to twitch to gain a laugh. Dugan shows the most restraint in his impersonations, reining in the theatrics and letting the words damn themselves. Media figures, and quite rightfully, are not spared in the production, being the prurient and oily mediums for unpacking these sorry tales. Jubilant incisor marks are left on various august personalities of the realm, including Wolf Blitzer, Sean Hannity, and Barbara Walters.
The set (Caite Hevner) – just five simple chairs facing forward beneath a changing projected banner head – is als0 a quiet star, at once self-effacing while contributing a somewhat poisonous atmosphere of relentless media scrutiny. Dan Knechtges directs, shuffling the actors around from episode to episode, keeping things fluid with a sense of possible impromptu.
For those feeling cramped by, and hopeless about the U.S. political landscape (everybody?), this show offers some gleeful relief. The run of five shows for the festival was quickly sold out. It’s smart and funny, not unlike a few humorous TV current affairs turns of the moment. Laughter – and there is much of it – is a tonic, and Correa, Knechtges, and cast are pulling strongly for it here. It’s more a gracefully interwoven series of sketches than it is a play. As such, it may be churlish to add, Tail! Spin! isn’t aiming very high. Which is why it so successfully over hits the mark. If there’s one fresh moral it serves up nicely, then it’s ridicule costs, and to get it, you really have to earn it.
Writer: Mario Correa
Relive the romance in this verbatim recreation of the scandals of Larry ‘wide-stance’ Craig, Mark ‘underage-page’ Foley, Anthony ‘twitpic’ Weiner, and Mark ‘Appalachian-Trail’ Sanford. Taken from their actual smut talk, fervent denials and tearful confessions. Come meet your erected leaders!
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