In a year that brought such gifts to politics as Sarah Palin’s Alaska, Christine O’Donnell’s “I’m not a witch” declaration, and Ginny Thomas’s 7 AM phone call to Anita Hill, a comedy show poking fun at women in Washington should be laughing all the way to the box office. A Girl’s Guide to Washington Politics is just that—ticket sales for this show have broken Woolly Mammoth’s advance-sales records.
It’s a shame that the show by the stellar Chicago comedy troupe Second City, a follow-up to last year’s Barack Stars: The Wrath of Rahm, ignores so many opportunities for humor. Christine O’Donnell makes the briefest of appearances when a Hogwarts-esque sorting hat assigns her to Slytherin rather than to the Democratic or Republican parties. Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton have their own monologues, but Sarah Palin is nowhere to be seen. Instead, her husband, Todd (played by ensemble member Joey Bland), goes off on a spiel about how awful his marriage is. “She’s shooting pandas from a helicopter,” he tells the audience. “She makes their heads into bedroom slippers.”
According to reports, the show’s script changes every day, so it’s possible we missed some of the more skewering gags. Instead, we got a few zingers, among them a musical number called “Senators’ Wives” and an operetta set in the Supreme Court with Elena Kagan playing Evita. But those were followed by a number of skits that didn’t seem to be about either women or politics. Brooke Breit’s Suze Orman-esque financial advisor was funny as hell but didn’t seem to fit with the show’s theme, and neither did a flat sketch about a black doctor and a white nurse confronting each other’s racial prejudices.
Second City producer Jenna Deja has made a big deal of telling the media that the show has been designed for a Washington audience, aiming to please a smarter and more informed demographic. So “get your thieving government hands off my Medicare” jokes about the Tea Party seemed particularly un-clever, as did a riff about Stephen Breyer being the most-forgotten Supreme Court Justice. The show’s improvised musical, based on three audience suggestions, was spontaneous gold, but it was tarnished slightly by the fact that one cast member didn’t know who outgoing Mayor Adrian Fenty was.
Director Bill Bungeroth has a dynamite cast on his hands, along with a few genius vignettes that allow them to really shine. With Barack Stars, the Chicago-based troupe had a subject they knew well, so possibly all they needed with this show was a few more weeks to rehearse (and brush up on their Washington know-how). It makes for a fun-enough evening, but you can’t help missing the skewering that could have been.
At the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company through January 9. Tickets ($45 to $90) are available here.