Political Pandering

The cleverly titled Tail! Spin! is only tangentially related to a deadly airplane maneuver. Think of “tail” as a euphemism for sex, and “spin” as the result, and you’ll be close to the subject of the sketches satirizing four politicians whose sex scandals were once hot but now are receding from memory. "Tailspin" might be applied to what happened to their careers as a result.

The freshest is that of Anthony Weiner; he’s joined by South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, former Idaho Senator Larry Craig, and former Florida congressman Mark Foley. Rachel Dratch, the petite Saturday Night Live alumna, takes on an array of betrayed wives, as well as Barbara Walters. Mocking the hypocrisy of these men is the chief aim of playwright Mario Correa, and the dialogue is taken from the record. At the outset, a projection reads, “Honestly. This is what they actually said.”

Correa intercuts the interviews and denials, the confessions and the sanctimonious interrogations, so cleverly that it freshens the old news, while reminding us of the details that have faded. Further helpful projections by Caite Hevner Kemp advise, for instance, that Craig was in the Singing Senators, a barbershop quartet; Craig, you may remember, was arrested in a public toilet at the Minneapolis airport in 2007 for soliciting an undercover policeman for sex. Sean Dugan plays him with a faux-resonant voice as if he were trying hard to keep it in a manly register.

The crazy-quilt of dialogue yields surprising results. In an interview with Craig, NBC News’s Matt Lauer asks, “You wouldn’t view [being homosexual] as a source of great shame if you had to admit it?” Craig responds, “I’m not sure that I’ve ever looked at anyone else’s sex life as a great shame.” And immediately Correa pops in a flashback to 1998 and a speech by the bristling politico: “The American people already know Bill Clinton is a bad boy, a naughty boy. I’m going to speak out for the citizens of my state who, in the majority, think Bill Clinton is probably even a nasty, bad, naughty boy.”

The four politicians are skewered mercilessly, but Correa doesn’t stop there. From the pompous news inquisitors to the “wronged women,” everyone comes in for the drubbing they deserve.

For instance, there's Sydney Leathers, an “Indiana progressive activist” who was “poked” on Facebook by Weiner and later spoke against him. The projection displays the information that “Leathers went on to star in the porno Weiner and Me,” and Dratch, as the activist, reads it off with a smile of pride, but then checks herself, darkens her countenance, and says, “I’m disgusted by him.”

Dan Knechtes's sharp production also calls for improvisation. When Burton as Mark Foley, the closeted Florida congressman who lewdly pursued male pages on the Internet and in person, delivers a speech to the audience, he singles out one man in the front row (the night I attended, Burton’s choice was a bodybuilder). Foley lasciviously eyes the man’s thigh, asks whether he works out, and then pokes and squeezes the well-developed leg. 

In the last sketch, Tom Galantich plays a strikingly handsome, gray-haired Mark Sanford with smooth likability, making it all the more believable that South Carolinians actually reelected him even after his scandal, which involved an affair with an Argentinean woman and the ruse from his staff that Sanford, who was in Buenos Aires, was “hiking the Appalachian Trail.” Dratch plays his wife, Jenny, and, with their marriage on the rocks, the scene of Sanford wheedling her like a schoolboy to let him have an affair—“Why can’t you just give me permission?”—is bound to bring a smile. 

Indeed, smiles and grins are plentiful in this smartly conceived and skillfully played burlesque, although belly laughs are scarcer. Perhaps the hypocrisy on display is the reason. That, too, can be blamed on the politicians.

Tickets to Tail! Spin! range from $25–$75 and can be arranged online at www.tailspinshow.com or by calling 866-811-4111. The show plays through Nov. 30 at the Culture Project, Lynn Redgrave Theater, 45 Bleecker St. at Lafayette. Evening performances are at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 5:30 p.m. on Sunday. Matinees are at 3 p.m. on Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays.

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