Review: ‘Watergate…with Puppets’ by AnyStage Theater

The comedy comes in quick sketches reminiscent of SNL on a good night.

Fans of zany humor might remember when AnyStage Theater popped up in the Capital Fringe Festival with its ridiculous (and mostly fact-free) takes on Margaret Thatcher and Amelia Earhart. The quick-witted young company now brings to DC Arts Center’s hole-in-the-wall stage a hilarious new show about Watergate that hews (loosely) to the historical record—except that Richard Nixon and his cronies are played by puppets.

Four adroit comic actors play multiple characters, some as puppets, some not. Alec Scheller and Zach Smith do a recurring conspiracy bit as Carl Woodward and Bob Bernstein that keeps getting funnier. Sheryl Mebane does Gerald Ford as a dim-bulb Commedia clown. Melissa Carter does a hysterically puppetized H.R. Haldeman and Rosemary Woods. And Scheller’s outstanding turn as Puppet President Nixon is commander-in-chief of the show.

Sheryl Mebane (as John Dean), Melissa Carter (as H.R. Haldeman), Alec Scheller (as Richard Nixon), and Zack Smith (as Spiro Agnew) in ‘Watergate…with Puppets.’ Photo courtesy of AnyStage Theater.

The comedy comes in quick sketches reminiscent of SNL on a good night. There’s even a scene using footage from a 1970s-era SNL opener and the catchphrase “Live from DC, it’s the Saturday Night Massacre!” Directors John-Nicholas Walsh (who also wrote the crackling script) and Kirsten Grady set a crisp pace and broad-as-a-barn-door acting style that keep this live-action cartoon spot on.

I can attest that this show’s clever vein of humor connects with someone who remembers when Watergate happened. So it’s remarkable to realize this fun send-up was created by talents not yet born.

The show begins with a trigger warning that it contains disdain for elected officials who commit crimes. And I’m here to tell you: Belly-laughing today at the Nixon administration scandals gives one hope that years from now there could be a show about the current administration as cathartically wacky as Watergate…with Puppets. 

Credits:

Written by John-Nicholas Walsh
Directed by John-Nicholas Walsh & Kirsten Grady
Movement Directed by Marshall Betz
Puppets Designed by Kirsten Grady & Andrew Brockmeyer

H.R. Haldeman/Rose Mary Woods/Democratic Senator/News Producer/Ensemble: Melissa Carter
Ron Ziegler/Deep Throat/Republican Senator/Gerald Ford/ John Dean/Ensemble: Sheryl Mebane
Richard Nixon/Carl Bernstein/Alexander Butterfield/Ensemble: Alec Scheller
Spiro Agnew/Bob Woodward/Announcer/ Katherine Graham/Ensemble: Zack Smith

Running Time: Approximately 80 minutes, with no intermission.

Watergate…with Puppets plays through December 15, 2018, at AnyStage Theater performing at DC Arts Center – 2438 18th Street NW, Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them online.

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John Stoltenberg
Among the hats John Stoltenberg wears are novelist and author, creative director and communications strategist, and avid theatergoer. Decades ago, in college, he began writing, producing, directing, and acting in plays. He continued through grad school—earning an M.F.A. in theater arts from Columbia University School of the Arts—then lucked into a job as writer-in-residence and administrative director with the influential experimental theater company The Open Theatre, whose legendary artistic director was Joseph Chaikin. Meanwhile Stoltenberg’s own plays were produced off-off-Broadway, and he won a New York State Arts Council grant to write plays. Then his life changed course: He turned to writing nonfiction and what became a distinguished career as a magazine editor. But he kept going to the theater, the art form that for him has always been the most transcendent and transporting and best illuminates the acts and ethics that connect us. He tweets at @JohnStoltenberg.

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