Although Encyclopedia has played throughout the DC area, tonight is my first exposure to the Washington’s ABCs of theatrical education. Each show is a vaudevillian extravaganza and focuses on different subject matter – the last one was on the moon while this show is based on Vice Presidential (VP) history. As the Playbill states on its face: John Nance Gardner famously described the Vice-Presidency as being “not worth a bucket of warm piss” and the “worst damn fool mistake I ever made.” As a natural doubter, I checked it out on Wikipedia and sure enough, there it is word for word as Franklin Roosevelt’s Vice President so lovingly pronounced.
The performance repeatedly ping pongs between reality and ridicule as it brings to light famous historic achievements of our VPs combined with antics of the 6 cast members and the 8 guest contributors who provide the achievements of our vices. Kevin Phillips plays the role of the host and Master of Ceremonies, so his role is vital to the show’s success. He does a fine job of meeting those VP standards of mediocrity.
About one month before the show opens, each of the guest contributors is provided the subject matter. It is their task to research and report on their findings with respect to the VP they are charged with demeaning. Each of the guest contributors is paid with continuing thumbs-up approvals and metro fares to encourage their participation and commitment. One publicly admitted that their motivation was after smoking some weed, they would get on Wikipedia and do their stage homework. Hey, remember, this IS THE FRINGE.
As you enter the venue, there is a large stage with a podium in the center, a table on stage right and a large carpeted stage floor in front. This floor was used by the Secret Service Agents 1 and 2, Alessandro Ricchari and Frankie McDonough who apparently – as a result of their intense training – perform a 5-minute break dance and acrobatics to the likes I have never witnessed. It was amazing to admire their skills at turning, flipping, and walking on their hands all within seconds of the previous movement. Could our Secret Service find this training helpful to enhance their position responsibilities?
The Vice Presidents under discussion tonight were James Gardner, William McKinney, William Henry Harrison, Andrew Johnson, Lyndon Johnson, Harry Truman, Spiro Agnew. and Dick Cheney.
I talked to Kevin Phillips after the show and asked him how much the show is written and how much is improvised? He replied about 60% is rehearsed and incorporated as part of the planned performance, and the rest is improvised drawing from audience participation. Therefore, if you intend to see the performance, and I can’t comprehend how you could miss it, don’t be a lame duck and take on the responsibility of contributing to the evening’s antics. All the actors apparently thrive on the unexpected.
With the Jeopardy theme positioned within the trivial pursuit round, a duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, and famous candidate speeches, there is so much on the jigsaw puzzle board that you won’t have time for boredom. Famous last words from one of the cast politicians was ‘Remember, I believe what you believe.’
Running Time: 90 minutes
The Encyclopedia Show, Series 1, Volume 7 Vice Presidents plays through July 27, 2013 at the Warehouse – 645 New York Avenue, in Washington, DC. For performance times and to purchase tickets, visit the show’s Capital Fringe page.