Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Review - George and Laura Bush Perform ... Our Favorite Sitcom Episodes (New York International Fringe Festival and The Present Company)

Review by Bryan Stryker
Photo by Kevin Lambert

"Wondering what Laura and I have been up to since leaving the Oval Office?" George W. Bush asks. "We certainly have not been sitting on our duffs like another former first couple (*cough* The Carters *cough*)."

In playwright Ryan Gajewski's warped world, George (Peter Zerneck) and Laura (Jennifer Tullock) have taken up reenacting their favorite sitcom episodes in their Crawford ranch, and are bringing their show to the New York Fringe Festival. It's a premise that holds much promise given the number of classic sitcoms they could lampoon (with my personal preference and immediate thought being "All in the Family"). However, that premise goes to waste in this production.

While the idea of a bumbling President Bush has been played for laughs for the past eight years in many a Saturday Night Live sketch, that joke alone cannot sustain itself for a full 90-minute production. Though the play's website details multiple episodes that the Bushes have under their belt (including the infamous "The Contest" episode of "Seinfeld"), the audience is only treated to one reenacted episode from "I Love Lucy" - the one where Lucy goes to work in the chocolate factory. This somehow morphs into a time travel story where George Bush goes to the future to warn Venezuela's Hugo Chavez to change his ways and work with the United States. Unsurprisingly, this wasn't as funny as the image of Laura Bush shoving chocolates in mouth would have been. It doesn't get any funnier when a network executive, Diamond Steal-Second (Robert Micheli), signs the duo to a TV contract and brings in Emmy nominee Matt LeBlanc (John J. Isgro) as their costar. In fact, at this point the show seems as interminable as the eight-year Bush administration.

Do not, however, blame the actors. Peter Zerneck gives a strong performance of the former president with Jennifer Tullock playing his dutiful wife, Laura. Tullock's portrayal of the former first lady, including her presumed stilted acting style, and impersonation of Lucille Ball's comedic crying garnered the most laughs from the audience. Throw in some spot on costuming from Irma Escobar, and they do embody the Bushes. John J. Isgro's Matt LeBlanc, however, is depicted as though he never stopped playing Joey Tribbiani from "Friends," and his Joey-shtick, like the buffoonery of this production's President Bush, wore thin within minutes. Robert Micheli's bipolar network executive was energetically portrayed by Robert Micheli, but never seems to connect with the audience.

Playwright Ryan Gajewski is clearly counting on anti-Bush sentiment. It can only be assumed that the reason the network executive was named Diamond Steal-Second was to allow President Bush to muddle his name with other baseball terms such as Diamond Round-Third. Funny the first time, not so much afterwards.

Kevin Lambert's direction was decent, but the timing of the piece felt off. Perhaps if the pace had been quicker, the audience wouldn't have been wondering if some of the longer pauses onstage were the actors having forgotten their lines and wondering what to do next.

I have thought about giving George and Laura Bush Perform ... a second viewing; but when the most memorable part of the show is the impromptu audience sing-a-long of theme songs playing prior to the show, it's probably not worth a repeat visit.

George and Laura Bush perform ... Our Favorite Sitcom Episodes
Written by Ryan Gajewski
Directed by Kevin Lambert
Sound/Lighting Designer: Elliot Lanes
Costume Design: Irma Escobar
Graphic Design: Miriam Hiersteiner
Fight Choreography: Michael G. Chin

Featuring: Peter Zerneck (George W. Bush), Jennifer Tullock (Laura Bush), Robert Micheli (Diamond Steal-Second), John J. Isgro (Matt LeBlanc)

Players Theatre
115 Macdougal Street
Saturday 8/15 at 3:30 PM
Sunday 8/23 at 6 PM
Monday 8/24 at 2 PM
Wednesday 8/26 at 8 PM
Friday 8/28 at 10:15 PM

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