Dallas — Fairly early on in Unelectable You: The Second City’s Completely Unbiased Political Revue, presented Tuesday at the Majestic Theatre under the banner of AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Off-Broadway on Flora series, one cast member proffers that “political opinion is a spectrum, not a binary.” The sentiment, together with the final number and its refrain “Let’s start to change tonight, let’s get unstuck,” served as bookends to a briskly paced evening of sketch, song, and improv. With Slate as co-producer you know what the political slant will be, yet it was still an equal-opportunity-offense show, with even Bernie Sanders going under the comedic knife. All laced with Second City’s trademark humanist philosophy that gives you hope for homo sapiens.
Emcee and ringleader Cody Dove was a masterful, possibly legendary, thing to behold. Intense, loud, lightning-fast and always in control (you can see where Ophira Eisenberg takes her cues), he looked spiffy in dark gray suit, black glasses, blue tie, and red pocket kerchief. When cast members frequently ventured into the audience for comedy bits, he wittily dispatched those who offered idiot suggestions. Dove was well-stocked with quips on locals’ favorite whipping posts and wondered how Texit was working out, deeming us “Texas, the Scotland of North America” for our crazed bellicose politicians.
With the election the focus, the gleefully wicked Frank Caeti did his turn as Donald Trump with what appeared to be a golden mound of cotton candy on his head. His exceedingly affable Bill Clinton appeared in a skit with Carisa Barreca as Melania Trump. The long-suffering spouses snarked it up like a couple of old pals and pondered sabotaging the campaign. After eviscerating Hillary’s voice, looks, demeanor and abject tech skills, talk turned to Trump, with Caeti’s Clinton noting “It’s like he wants to win the election, but not be president,” and chuckling how Trump listed his relationship with Putin as “it’s complicated.” on Facebook.
Barreca has great pipes and knocked it off the charts with newcomer Tien Tran in “Poor Hillary.” They pondered, “How will we survive without being a man,” and exulted that “there’s going to be a V in D.C.” The duo excelled in another duet on the impossibly fine balance female candidates must achieve, with demands for just the right tone of voice or facial expression to be “like they’ve never had a period ever.” It’s easy: “Just be yourself—be a man.” A blend of wit and empathy that’s oh so rare.
The intensely angular Alan Linic and slim black hipster Ian Owens brought to life a Broadway-quality song on nostalgia for genteel politics that never were. They lamented in another showstopper the country being stuck in a deathly rut of reaction and indignation, leading Owens to ponder: “If I become a cop, do I have to shoot myself?” Both songs were poignant and insightful.
Sketches reached their apex in the Island of Almost Presidents, with new arrival Bernie Sanders (Linic) being given the inside scoop by Harold Stassen (Dove), the 1940s and ’50s-era politician who unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination 11 times. . (A history nerd sketch; I love these people!) Stassen relayed the reams of candidates lost to sex scandals and all the independent-candidate castaways.
In a splendid bit on internet trolls, the cast portrayed comments (including emojis) come to life. ALL CAPS was always yelling, another responded with abortion comments no matter what the topic, even spam as penis pills and mortgage refinance ads spoke up. Dove jumped in to award points when a record for bogus Holocaust references was broken.
Multimedia made its requisite appearance. Barreca shone in silent stand-up, letting text queries on the screen speak for her as she cleverly explored populist manipulation. At one point we were asked to “Cheer if you hate being goaded to cheer.” Cody interviewed Slate writer Joshua Keating via Skype chat on the current political hot topics, generating ideas and riffs for subsequent improv.
Indeed, it’s not a Second City show without some improv, and they boasted some truly creative approaches to the art. Frank Caeti as a low-information caveman voter chatted it up with Dove, which inspired punchlines and bits from the remaining cast standing nearby. It generated the barb by Dove: “When Afghanistan doesn’t come up in debates, but Rosie O’Donnell gets airtime.”
Skewering the pay-for-play of today’s politics and media, Dove exhorted audience members to outbid each other in order to get their skit idea improvised on by the troupe. Goaded by the audience chanting “Mar-y Kay! Mar-y Kay!” bids for the “Trump on the Mary Kay bus” idea topped out at $160 in cold cash collected by Dove, who noted: “Dallas is the only place where this could happen.” Caeti’s Trump was eviscerated with sweet Southern “Bless your heart” charm by Barreca: “Oh honey, you need a new foundation. Orange is not your color.” You can guess which P word the punchline pivoted on. It brought the house down.
Holding close to the ideal that “the two-party system should at least be a party, Unelectable You was deftly staged and directed by current Second City hot shot Matt Hovde, with Steve Waltien wrangling fellow writers Tyler Alexander, Billy Bungeroth, Marla Caceres, Ed Furman, Scott Morehead, Carley Mosesley and John Thibodeaux.