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Between Iraq and a Hard Place
By Eunice Marquet
The group was formed in 1981 when three congressional staffers turned comedians after performing for the annual Capitol Hill Christmas party. Their irreverent send-ups of politics and the State of the Union were so well received by the heads of state that they decided to take their act on the road. Since then, the Washington, D.C. based troupe has toured the country performing their brand of political sketch comedy. In doing so they have discovered that making fun of politicians is just as popular to Middle America as it is to Washington insiders.
Tis is the Steps' fifth Off-Broadway stint. And with such topics as President Hillary, the war in the Middle East and the French, there is no end of material for this comical institution. In fact, the audience is encouraged to come back as the show is updated whenever there is breaking news.
The cast (rotatating as part of a larger base of Steppers) consists of five able performers who play multiple characters with the help of minimal props and costumes. Some highlights include a rather sweet love song between Yassar Arafat and Ariel Sharon and the Steps' signature double-speak story-telling act, which delivers the edgiest and most intelligent comedy along with the biggest laughs of the evening.
The sketches are mostly aricatures of world leaders, punctuated withg jokes and rewritten lyrics for tunes from popular songs all aimed at satrizing the subjects behind the headlines. This convention seems clever at first, but quickly loses its novelty and becomes cliché. The same can be said for most of the topical humor, which tends to be shallow, stereotypical. The hour and forty minute show is in need of a strong framework to tie them together and more consistently witty material.
Though the John Houseman venue has been home to the Capitol Steps' annual visit, it strikes me as too large to suit the group's antics which seem better suited to a cabaret space or comedy club -- especially, since the simple and charming set, conceived by well known cartoonist R.J. Matson, is under used.
Having chalked up a 22-year history of amusing audiences from Arkansas to Idaho, from L.A. to NYC, my own reaction is unlikely to prevent their being around for many many more years. If you don't catch this incarnation, I'm betting you will have a chance again next year. In the meantime, you can always purchase their current CD. It's title? You guessed it: Between Iraq and a Hard Place.
Editor's Note: This group isn't the only one capitalizing on the spoofability of the people in the headlines. A younger troupe which calls itself The News in Revue, is currently performing its 8th gig in the Berkshires in exactly the kind of setting Eunice would prefer and with their latest incarnation, a case of inspirational lightning striking twice, under the title of Between Iraq and a Hard Place. For a review posted earlier this week go here.
LINKS TO PREVIOUS CAPITAL STEPS SHOWS
Capitol Steps: When Bush Comes to Shove
It Ain't Over 'Till the First Lady Sings
Unzippin' My Doodah and Other National Priorities/
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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