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Review: ‘This Is The Week That Is: The Election Special’ at 1812 Productions in Philadelphia

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An annual favorite at 1812 Productions is its irreverent take on the current news. This year’s show, This Is The Week That Is: The Election Special, has hit the motherlode of material with the two most widely mistrusted presidential candidates in US history, and the terrific TITWTI ensemble of writers/performers–Sean Close, Justin Jain, Alex Bechtel, Nia-Samara Benjamin, Dave Jadico, and Jennifer Childs, who also directs–mines it to the hilt!

Alex Bechtel and Justin Jain. Photo by Mark Garvin.

Alex Bechtel and Justin Jain. Photo by Mark Garvin.

Now in its eleventh installment, the socio-political satire, which opens the all-comedy company’s 20th season, has all of the familiar elements that have made it a crowd pleaser for more than a decade. There’s the news desk, with the sharp-witted Don Montrey serving as Head News Writer and Close performing as anchorman (his reactions and double-takes to the headlines he presents are priceless), and street correspondent Jadico does his ever-amusing live-feed interview with a randomly selected audience member in the lobby. And of course South-Philly’s favorite pundit Patsy (Childs’ extremely opinionated and outspoken character) is back, with her “bi-non-partisan” take on “What the hell is going on?” in the ongoing fiasco of the 2016 campaign.

The current production also introduces a funny new segment, “Lady Business,” featuring Childs and 1812 rookie Benjamin–a great addition to the cast in both her comedic and vocal skills. As co-hosts of a feminist talk show, they pose the big questions, “Does this make you uncomfortable?” and “Should we vote for ‘Her’ just because she’s a woman?”

Jennifer Childs, with Alex Bechtel. Photo by Mark Garvin.

Jennifer Childs, with Alex Bechtel. Photo by Mark Garvin.

Childs opens it all with an initially serious curtain speech that quickly launches into the uproarious theme, with fellow cast members unable to assist in her introduction, as they suffer from the seven progressive stages of grief triggered by the election. It is followed by bits on the corruption of Wells Fargo bank, a UA meeting of undecided anonymous voters, a western gun advocate (Jain, affecting a spot-on accent) proposing a new category of “gunathlon” for the Olympics, a probe into the minds and personalities of the egomaniacal candidates, and other send-ups of relevant campaign issues that offer non-stop laughs.

Along with the series of sketches are live musical numbers with popular songs given new lyrics. Among the highlights are a sidesplitting original version of “So Long, Farewell” from The Sound of Music, sung in Alpine-wear by Benjamin, Childs, Close, Jain, and Jadico portraying the Trump children, as they are sequentially fired, à la Celebrity Apprentice, by their cold-hearted father (the hilarious Bechtel, who also serves as Musical Director, nailing The Donald’s peculiar gestures and facial expressions under a comb-over wig); and Childs as Hillary Clinton, with Bechtel’s laughably dull Al Gore accompanying her on piano, stubbornly belting out “And I Am Telling You” from Dreamgirls, after rhetorically questioning, with cocktail in hand, “Why don’t people like me?”

Lance Kniskern’s set design and Peter Escalada-Mastick’s lighting provide an apropos red, white, and blue palette. Costumes by Jillian Keys add visual humor to the over-the-top characterizations, and videos by Jorge Cousineau supplement the live action with a projected background of clever sight gags.

Alex Bechtel, Nia-Samara Benjamin, Dave Jadico, Jennifer Childs, Justin Jain, and Sean Close. Photo by Mark Garvin.

Alex Bechtel, Nia-Samara Benjamin, Dave Jadico, Jennifer Childs, Justin Jain, and Sean Close. Photo by Mark Garvin.

If the timbre and choices of the 2016 political year have gotten you down, This Is The Week That Is: The Election Special is just the right antidote to counteract the distressing negativity and viciousness with keen commentary and belly laughs.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 20 minutes, including a 20-minute intermission.

This Is The Week That Is: The Election Special plays through Monday, November 7, 2016, at 1812 Productions, performing at Plays & Players Theatre – 1714 Delancey Street, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (215) 592-9560, or purchase them online.

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