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Review: ‘Political Cabaret’ at Cohesion Theatre, Baltimore Improv Group, and Spotlighters Theatre

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As a welcome election-year treat, Cohesion Theatre Company (“Cohesion”), Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre (“Spotlighters”), and the Baltimore Improv Group (“BIG”) have collaborated to create a lighthearted performance event they call Political Cabaret. The production combines “improv, sketch comedy, and musical satire speaking to all things election season.” It’s a night of good fun.

unnamed-1The production features a talented ensemble of actors, performers, writers, and musicians from Cohesion and BIG: Zach Bopst, Caitlin Carbone, Ti Coleman, Rasheed Green, Mike Harris, Jim Knost, Kim Le, AJ McCombs, Andy McIntyre, Miles Needer, Brad Norris, Alice Stanley, and John Windmueller. I wish the members of Congress worked as well together as these artists from different disciplines and backgrounds do; a lot more would get done!

Pooling the skills of the performers and a Production Team Supergroup including Mike Harris, Jonathan Jensen, Kris Messer, Jeff Miller, Heather Peacock, and Alice and Kathleen Stanley, The Political Cabaret is a well-balanced blend of scripted comedy and improvisational theater. As such, it’s a guarantee that the show you see will not be the exact same as the performance I saw, but you’re likely to see variations on my favorite parts of the evening.

The show has some throughlines that hold it all together. The basic premise is that this election year, in addition to the real life candidates we know, we also have some other contenders for the Oval Office. The audience decides the broad strokes, such as where the candidates hail from and where their various debates, town meetings and stump speeches take place, then the improv pros from BIG run with it.

The night I went, BIG members Ti Coleman, Rasheed Green, and Andy McIntyre were hilarious as presidential hopefuls from Arkansas, Colorado, and Texas, respectively. There were also funny political ads and a talking head TV show with pundits Miles Needer, AJ McCombs, and Mike Harris that was very entertaining.

Zach Bopst and Caitlin Carbone. Photo courtesy of Cohesion Theatre Company.

Zach Bopst and Caitlin Carbone. Photo courtesy of Cohesion Theatre Company.

Interspersed between the witty improvised electioneering were some great scripted scenes. Any scene with Zach Bopst as Donald Trump and Caitlin Carbone as Hillary Clinton was sure to get a lot of laughs. Bopst’s Trump was spot on with pouting duck lips; nonsensical, self-aggrandizing language; and a narcissistic lack of concern for the office or the political process in general. Carbone’s Clinton was likewise on target, shamelessly pandering to millennials; aghast at Trump’s laissez-faire approach to the campaign; and so stiff that during a scene where the candidates take a spa day together, she could barely bend her body to fit into a comfy chair. The spa scene was among my favorites, as was a Trump/Hillary trip to the zoo. No spoilers here, just trust me, it’s funny.

Kim Lee and Brad Norris. Photos courtesy of Cohesion Theatre Company.

Kim Lee and Brad Norris. Photos courtesy of Cohesion Theatre Company.

My favorites among the non-Trump/Hillary scenes included a truly inspired piece in which Kim Le visits a gun store owned by Brad Norris. These two have another scene together in a café that I won’t spoil with details, but which I loved the best even though it hit a little close to home.

Also peppered through the evening was some musical satire, including an upbeat “White House Rock” in which Jim Knost crooned the parodied Elvis tune while Alice Stanley and Brad Norris accompanied on guitar. I also enjoyed Alice Stanley’s sad rendition of Norah Jones’ “Don’t Know Why,” in which they lament the peril of being a millennial who opts not to vote. I’ve heard Alice sing before, but this ballad blew me away. They’ve got a really lovely voice.

The Political Cabaret is a fun diversion from a depressing election year. Do yourself a favor and go check it out while it’s still here. With only two performances left, it’ll be gone faster than you can book your tickets to Canada. I encourage you to take the advice of BIG’s Artistic/Executive Director Mike Harris and “Go ahead and laugh at America’s Political Future before it is time to weep.”

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

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The Political Cabaret plays through September 18, 2016 at Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre – 817 St. Paul Street in Baltimore, MD. Tickets may be purchased at the box office or online.

Phil Gallagher as Karl Marx in 'Marx in Soho.' Photo by Shealyn Jae Photography.

Phil Gallagher as Karl Marx in ‘Marx in Soho.’ Photo by Shealyn Jae Photography.

Only two shows remain: September 16 and 17, at 10:30 pm, following the final two performances of Spotlighters 5-star production of Marx in Soho. (You get a discount if you purchase tickets to both at the same time).

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