I walked out of Will Rogers’ USA thinking that this guy was the most awesome man on the planet. Everyone should see this play, especially if they have no idea who is. I was intrigued by the program that says he echoes John Stewart, and it turned out to be the perfect description. Except for the fact that Will Rogers was born in the Oklahoma Territory long before it was a state and died in 1935, they have startlingly simliar (and funny) jokes. Will Rogers performed on radio and in movies in the 1920’s and 30’s, but what is not usually mentioned on the retrospectives, is that he was, first and foremost, a comedian.
This one-man play was compiled and edited by Paul Shyre and directed by Rob Cork, but it is 100% Will Rogers’ words, brought to charming life by Trip Lloyd. This is a production of the Kaleidoscope Theatre Company, of which he is a founding member. For the July 21, 28, and 2th performances, Rob Cork will take over the role.
The play walks through a bit of biographical information as Will talks about his parents and his wife and his horse, but most of it is reserved for his comedy routines, and most of his comedy routines tackled politics. This man was so funny, but I was slightly abashed by how relevant his humor still is. His schtick about filibusters, the DC mayor, or the presidential election really could translate to the Daily Show just by changing the name. For instance, his solution to traffic problems is to keep people off the roads until they pay for their automobiles. (An item that people were purchasing for the first time back then…) He has the same solution for wars: no one can start another one until the last one’s paid for. The piece is fascinating on another level as a look at a dark moment for the U.S. between 2 World Wars and lost in a depression, but still laughing. He died before World War 2 and for the audience to know what has happened since, even as he spoke of the war “to end all wars” and how hazardous government can be to American freedom, it was both ironic and unsettling.
Lloyd caught his drawl and mannerisms so well, but he wasn’t quite off-book, which slowed down his timing. It was ultimately the words of Will Rogers himself that makes this so extraordinary. If you are a Comedy Central fan or if you have a grandma who is still laughing 75 years later, this is simply great. I may have been the youngest person in the audience, which is a shame, because his exhortation to do the best you can and not take life too seriously has never been more relevant.
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