Capital Fringe Review: ‘Madam Ambassador’ by Carolyn Kelemen


Madam Ambassador offers inside-the-beltway humor

It helps if you are a “political junkie” or, at least, up to date on our State Department appointments to fully appreciate Madam Ambassador, a political satire focused on the strange ways the U.S. government selects it top diplomats.

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The many grey-haired audience members at the opening performance at Fort Fringe – The Shop appeared to be “in-the-know.” In fact, at times it felt as if we were behind the scenes in DC politics with the familiar hand shaking and slapping on the backs of both actors and fans. The jokes throughout the farce were apropos to inside-the-beltway daily living.

“I want a divorce,” Valerie Butts (Patricia Magno) announces in the opening scene to her “trophy husband” (whom she met on a “widows’ cruise” after the untimely death of her late Senator husband). Sound familiar? Now living in “Purgatory, Illinois,” as she calls her new location, the Mrs. decides to keep Buzz Butts (Doug Graupman) around for her bizarre scheme to become ‘Madam Ambassador.’

“Part Ann Richards, Madeline Albright, and, perhaps, Pamela Harriman – if they were Republican – Magno captures the feistiness of all three world leaders plus a little bit of Margaret Thatcher with her crisp English pronouncement, “I will buy my way if I have to!” Sound familiar?

As a retired diplomat and historian, Playwright Duke Ryan is savvy to the plots of international diplomacy, and his humor in dealing with these issues comes off clear and direct. “When you are in public service you have to think of money,” the appointed Danish ambassador proclaims to Buzz, about to stir up more trouble.

There were a few mishaps in the first performance, including a broken glass dropped from a balcony seat by an inconsiderate attendee. The set is minimal but works well in the cozy black box theater, allowing the five-member cast to move about without any fear of bumping into each other or knocking off the American flags from the ambassador’s patriotic desk.

Kudos to Director George Grant for creating the innovative off-stage (or nearly so) telephone conversations by Richard Fisk as Strummer, a powerful Washington lawyer, and Jim Epstein as Gumpston, a local political operative. Diana Partridge added sexiness as a Danish entrepreneur, while Magno carried off her duties in a manner befitting an ambassador, (sort of) in her red, white and blue scarf below her coiffed hair a la Nancy Reagan.

Running Time: 90 minutes.

Madam Ambassador plays through July 27, 2013 at Fort Fringe – The Shop, 607 New York Avenue NW, in Washington, DC.  For performance times and to purchase tickets, visit the show’s Capital Fringe page.

2013 Capital Fringe Show Preview: ‘Madam Ambassador’ by Duke Ryan.