Filibusted, a comic review of the current presidential campaign, is the brainchild of producing artistic director of the Phoenix Theatre Ensemble, Craig Smith, who approached stand-up comic, Al Pagano, with the suggestion of an hour-long burlesque on the national free-for-all into which the sacred task of electing the next leader of the free world has devolved. If this campaign is notable for a public that looks to outlier candidates not beholden to big money and who tell it like it is, what better way to cut through the bombast, double talk, pomposity, dogma, pretentiousness and, yes, lies, than with the gentle and not so gentle barbs of humor.
Written and performed with enthusiasm by Al Pagano and Amy Loughead, Filibusted is a reference to the perfectly legal stymying of the legislative process in the Senate with endless babble; and clearly a comment on the vociferous if also loud and meandering voices in a field of presidential hopefuls who compete mercilessly for our attention as we stumble forward in our selection of a president. It is we voters who are “filibusted” in the process, Pagano and Loughead point out. Hence the brilliant and eye-opening decision of Pagano to allow the candidates to speak for themselves, as Pagano tells us at the very outset:
“Now the reason we aren’t just jumping right into the show is that we want you to know that most of the words this evening which are attributed to the candidates are actually the candidates’ own.” Yes, let ‘em hang themselves on ropes of their own fashioning! “We didn’t change, alter or manipulate much of what they said in any way... we just took their words (out of context) and like pieces of a puzzle, inserted them into scenes of our imagining, to serve our own ends.”
Just as a surgeon might cover all of the body save the segment to which she will apply her knife, Pagano and Loughead thus manage to isolate comments by our candidates, the better to hold them up for all to view and dissect. All of this is wrapped, we are told, in “a series of scenes, sketches and games,” and here begins the fun. Between opening and closing salvos (Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton), we will hear candidates opine on topics such as flirting (“All the women on 'The Apprentice' flirted with me, consciously or unconsciously. It’s to be expected," says Donald Trump), prenuptials, safe sex (“I’m not sure we need a half a billion dollars for women’s health issues,” says Jeb Bush), staying in shape and threesomes. We will be treated to an imagined Schwarzenegger riff on amending the constitution to allow him to enter the field of candidates and listen to the privileged power brokers of our time cravenly compete in a “race to the bottom” of their hard luck stories to suggest to voters that they are who they are not: just ordinary Joes scrambling for a living like you and me (“My school had these popcorn balls ad they looked really good. But they were a nickel. I never had a popcorn ball,” says Ben Carson).
The estimable surgeon Carson is given a sketch of his own, the better to highlight such statements as “A lot of people who go into prison straight and when they come out, they’re gay, so did something happen while they were in there?” And he asks, “How about we have a transgender bathroom? It’s not fair for them to make everybody else uncomfortable.” Although clearly a man of enormous experience in his chosen field, he alludes to the fact that he has never held office noting that, “every signer of the Declaration of Independence had no federal elected office experience.”
Stand-up includes gesture along with the written word to make its point and the exaggerations of mime in capturing the candidates was especially illuminating. Perhaps the most inspired sketch was the one called “Immigration Game” in which the audience is treated to a panorama of comments over centuries on immigration and quizzed, in multiple choice format, as to the author of the quote—present candidate or figures from the past. But better not to give away the store and leave the leavening and illumination of this sketch to the occasion of your attendance at this engaging and witty performance.
Filibusted's last performance is at 10 p.m. on Feb. 13 at The Wild Project (195 East 3rd St. between Avenue A and B) in Manhattan. Tickets are $20 and include one drink. For tickets, call 212-352-3101 or visit http://www.phoenixtheatreensemble.org/filibusted/.