It could hardly be a more difficult time to open a comedy – even one as popular as This Is the Week That Is, 1812’s beloved revue, now celebrating its 10th anniversary, with much fresh material and some new ensemble players along with a number of veterans. Friday was the Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado; Wednesday’s opening night began just hours after what was already labeled the “San Bernardino Massacre.”
Predictably (since the show is political satire), both Planned Parenthood and gun control were mentioned in sketches that I’m sure were written before all of this. Also predictably, there was a tense moment as the audience wondered how to respond.
And then – some giggles, and a huge sense of relief. Sometimes, I think the “healing power of laughter” is a dubious concept – but not last night. This Is the Week That Is has its ups and downs, but rarely have I been so grateful for some spirit-lifting humor.
It’s hard to write specifically about a show that covers so much terrain – especially when I risk spoiling the best bits, which should come as a surprise. But I can tell you some of the things that, for me, struck comedy gold:
** The ensemble. Alex Bechtel, Jennifer Childs, Sean Close, Dave Jadico, Justin Jain, and Aimé Donna Kelly – six performers whose charisma, comic timing, and unflagging energy are a joy to behold. When the material is great, they make it better; when it’s not, they also make it better. (Childs and Jadico have been at this a long time, and they’re still marvelous – several of the others were new discoveries to me, and I hope to see more of them.)
** “After Hours with Hillary Clinton.” I wondered if a sketch about Hillary trying to make herself more likeable would be stale, but with Childs as Hillary – and Jadico as Bill – it was anything but.
** Alex Bechtel as Tim Gunn. This was part of an extended Project Runway sendup that went on too long – but the moments featuring Bechtel as Tim Gunn were sheer bliss. (Bechtel is probably the best impersonator of the bunch – also great as Al Gore and Donald Trump.)
** Sean Close doing the “This Is the Week That Is News.” TV news parodies are omnipresent, but Close – here channeling Stephen Colbert – was just terrific, and embedded in the segment are a handful of first-rate jokes – I laughed out loud at a tragically apt one about Philadelphia schools, and even harder at another about SEPTA. (I’m still laughing as I write this.)
There’s other good stuff – also some that’s not so good. A strong editor would have helped. (At opening, the show ran over two hours, including intermission – 90 minutes would be preferable.)
But don’t hesitate to book your tickets now. Holiday cheer is in plentiful supply at 1812 – and oh boy, do we need it!
This is the Week That Is, 1812 Productions at Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancy Str., (215) 592-9560, through December 31st. www.1812productions.org