Review: ‘This Is the Week That Is’ at 1812 Productions

If you’re looking for an evening of escapist entertainment at the theater this holiday season, 1812 Productions’ twelfth installment of its perennial hit This Is The Week That Is provides the entertainment, but not the escape. As the cast notes early on, there’s no escaping the state of our country, the world, or the presidency, and the annual political comedy hits the mark hard with its sardonic take on the latest news and a (middle!) finger on the current pulse of the nation.

Directed by Jennifer Childs, the keen-witted ensemble of writers/performers – returning favorites Childs, Sean Close, Dave Jadico, and Susan Riley-Stevens, first-timers Jenson Titus Lavallee and Rob Tucker (who also serves as Music Director), and Don Montrey, in his recurrent behind-the-scenes role as Head News Writer – clearly had an overload of material to satirize in 2017, filled with rampant socio-political disunity, daily revelations of sexual harassment, and “the most unpredictable administration in modern history.” The show addresses it all, with the all-comedy company’s characteristic trenchant humor, and with an occasional underlying tone of justifiable frustration and anger. But the observant Close even got a laugh out of that, with a spot-on ad lib noting that one enthusiastic member of the opening-night audience especially loved “the mean jokes!”

Jennifer Childs, Sean Close, and Susan Riley-Stevens. Photo by Mark Garvin.

Jennifer Childs, Sean Close, and Susan Riley-Stevens. Photo by Mark Garvin.

Along with the ever-popular segments of Close manning the news desk, Jadico conducting a live-feed interview in the lobby, and Childs giving “The View from My Stoop” as South Philly’s outspoken “bi-non-partisan” Patsy, are the ensemble’s signature impersonations of a roster of familiar politicos and celebrities (Childs as Chris Christie, Close as George W. Bush, Riley-Stevens as Sarah Palin, and Jadico as Jerry Seinfeld all nail their characterizations). And there are the customary segments of audience interaction (shout-out to James, who was terrific on opening night!) and up-to-the-minute references to late-breaking headlines, with this week’s announcement of American actress Meghan Markle’s engagement to Prince Harry, and the morning’s firings of Matt Lauer and Garrison Keillor for sexual misconduct, quickly inserted into the script.

This year’s send-up also includes pop-culture parodies of social media, game shows, superheroes, and ‘mansplaining,’ and a hilarious new segment called “Shade,” featuring Lavallee and Tucker as the flamboyant co-hosts of an online talk show, who offer laugh-out-loud examples of the differences between what it means to “read” someone and to “throw shade.” Other highlights include Riley-Stevens as a patriotic American from Cherry Hill, NJ, pandering “fake news” with a distinctly Russian accent, a reappearing panic button that lightens the load of political chaos by making “Ev’rybody Dance Now” when it’s hit, and an ongoing curtain speech that lampoons Trump’s interminable tweeting and incessant changes of staff.

Jenson Titus Lavallee and Rob Tucker . Photo by Mark Garvin.

Jenson Titus Lavallee and Rob Tucker. Photo by Mark Garvin.

Supporting the sidesplitting ensemble are Jillian Keys’ colorful costumes, Lance Kniskern’s telling set design of a fractured American flag, intentional lighting glitches by Paul Moffitt, and brilliant video projections (wait till you see the sight gag on Orange Is the New Black) and sound designed by the incomparable Jorge Cousineau.

This Is the Week That Is concludes with a full-cast rendition of Paul Simon’s doleful 1973 hit “American Tune,” which underscores the serious message behind the uproarious comedy. Like many of us, they “can’t help but wonder what’s gone wrong.” Again.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 25 minutes, including an intermission.

Rob Tucker, Sean Close, Susan Riley Stevens, Jenson Titus Lavallee, Dave Jadico, and Jennifer Childs Photo by John Flak.

Rob Tucker, Sean Close, Susan Riley Stevens, Jenson Titus Lavallee, Dave Jadico, and Jennifer Childs. Photo by John Flak.

This Is The Week That Is plays through Sunday, December 31, 2017, at 1812 Productions, performing at Plays & Players Theatre – 1714 Delancey Street, Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (215) 592-9560, or purchase them online.

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