Ben Schatz, Jeff Manabat, Spencer Brown, and Irwin Keller take on American politics in their new show, Electile Dysfunction. Photograph by C. Stanley Photography.
Ordinarily, the sight of a troupe of overly made up buffoons decked in glaring red, white, and blue strutting across a stage declaring that they’re endorsed by Yahweh would be A) the circus, B) a less-imaginative Saturday Night Live skit, or C) a South Carolina teen beauty pageant. Unfortunately, these days it’s just as likely to be a Republican primary debate. In the past few months alone, we’ve seen serious presidential contenders endorse the concept of child labor, excoriate “government injections” (or vaccinations, as some people like to call them), and declare that government shouldn’t intervene to save the life of a gravely ill man who is uninsured. In other words, not only has life come to imitate art, but it’s also kicked art in the shins, slushied it, and stolen its lunch money.
Which makes things hard for the Kinsey Sicks in their new show, currently enjoying its world premiere run at Theater J. In Electile Dysfunction: The Kinsey Sicks for President!, the girls (Rachel, Winnie, Trampolina, and Trixie) have donned their patriotic finest (imagine a fusion of the Star-Spangled Banner and stripper chic) and are announcing their run for president (as a corporation, naturally). “The economy has collapsed,” declares a video at the start of the show. “America is in decline.” So the Kinsey Sicks—America’s “favorite dragapella beautyshop quartet,” in case you weren’t familiar—have abandoned show business, taken newfound pledges of celibacy, and thrown their wigs in the ring—as Republicans.
If you thought a cross-dressing, power-crazed, sexually incontinent a cappella quartet couldn’t come close to the level of crazy we’ve already seen in the past few years, you’d be right. From the Sicks’ opening number, “Vote for Me (I Wasn’t Born in Kenya),” to the jaunty “Gonorrhea” (sung to the tune of Abba’s “Mamma Mia”), it soon becomes clear that try as they might to amp up the absurdity, there’s very little on offer here that we haven’t already seen at a Tea Party rally or two. “Eliminate the schools, say we,” sing the Sicks in a parody of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Three Little Maids From School Are We.” “They’ll learn all they need in a factory/ Or as a janitorial trainee.”
Sound familiar? There’s the rub: What should be prime fodder for Ben Schatz (Rachel), Irwin Keller (Winnie), Jeff Manabat (Trixie), and Spencer Brown (Trampolina)—namely, an election year—has actually wandered so far down Bonkers Boulevard that the girls end up looking positively tame by comparison. Luckily, they drag themselves back by means of some ribald audience interaction and a few thrilling stingers. Their best joke, which belies Schatz and Keller’s lawyerly background, pokes fun at a certain muted member of the judiciary. Says Winnie: “In the words of my favorite Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas”—followed by a deathly silence.
But as clever as the Sicks may be, they also can’t help falling a little flat every now and then, both in humor and in tone. One number, a sycophantic ode to the heartland voters of Peoria (or any other remote and only occasionally useful town), seems uninspired, and as Winnie patters on about the importance of monogamy (“not just another piece of expensive wood”), the political jokes seem to be holding the performers back. They’re much more in their element when preying on uncomfortable audience members during profane interludes, or performing a gun-themed pastiche of 1985’s “We Are the World” in “We Arm the World.”
As inadvertently entertaining as politics can be, it is essentially a serious business, and it’s hard not to think that the grim issues on the table here keep the Sicks from reaching their full potential. It comes out in glimpses, as when the girls sing, “I am Mormon, hear me roar” for their understudy Mitzi (a.k.a. Mitt), or in the utterly icky ode to abstinence, “Everything’s Coming Up Noses.” But the show as a whole feels fractured and, at almost two hours, overly long. As much as we love the Kinsey Sicks and their irrepressible odes to all things taboo or tasteless, the jokes in Electile Dysfunction are almost too close for comfort. After all, when a thrice-married, publicly chastised lobbyist is taken seriously as a crusader for family values, it can’t be long until a singing dragapella beautyshop quartet can make it all the way to the convention.
Electile Dysfunction: The Kinsey Sicks for President! is at Theater J through February 19. Tickets ($45 to $60) are available through Theater J’s website.