Hit or miss, but hilarious, political satire
|Stage Left Theatre i/a/w Red Tape Theatre presents|
Review by Lauren Whalen
Anyone who’s not living under a rock is anticipating the 2016 presidential election, likely with a healthy amount of trepidation. With that in mind, Mutt is especially timely: a story of warring candidates and the parties behind them. Playwright Christopher Chen’s satire is hit or miss and his sense of comedy is extremely broad, sometimes to the point of excess. Thankfully the Midwest premiere and joint production of Red Tape Theatre and Stage Left Theatre remains a winner, thanks to smart direction, phenomenal production values and a stellar cast.
In the wake of the 2012 Presidential election, the Republican Party is at a loss. Barack Obama – a biracial Democrat – won by a landslide and the people behind his opponents feel ignored and largely unloved by Americans. Enter consultant Hannah (Aurora Adachi-Winter), herself half-Caucasian and half-Asian, who’s been hired by the Party to make things right. Her solution? Find a multiracial candidate with charisma, experience and love for his countries (native and adopted), who’s interesting but not too threatening to conservatives. When the Party meets Len (Daniel Smith), they’re thrilled with the decorated war hero who claims to be descended from literally every existing race and possibly a few more. But when Congressman Nick (Michael Reyes) – also multiracial but much less charismatic – takes matters into his own hands, the primaries get a lot more interesting.
Picture a nearly two hour-long Saturday Night Live sketch and you have Chen’s script. Some jokes are right on the money and hilariously tragic, such as a Republican’s constant attempts to touch Hannah, and a Democratic employee who only knows the words “middle class.” Others don’t make quite as much sense, like the subplot in which a white police officer attempts to find a prolific serial killer whose description keeps changing. Mutt is also one of those plays that just ends, when there’s clearly a better way to wrap up and resolve various threads.
However, I recommend Mutt because director, cast and crew sell the bejesus out of it. Everyone from director Vanessa Stalling to projections designer Paul Deziel to every single cast member are completely, one hundred percent committed to Mutt’s utter ridiculousness. Mutt is scathing, braying proof that this type of willingness (coupled with a healthy dose of talent) can elevate a so-so script to a thoroughly enjoyable production. Stalling and stage manager Jason Crutchfield keep the pacing tight and quick, never belaboring a joke further than the source material allows. Sound designer Steve Labedz makes several genius music choices, and Deziel’s projection design is absolutely flawless. Mutt’s diverse ensemble play several roles each with aplomb and ironic humor, particularly Mary Williamson as a dejected yet amorous Republican, Reyes as sweet and bumbling Nick and Nicole Michelle Haskins as different witnesses to the serial killer’s nefarious actions. As the titular “Mutt,” Smith is the ultimate political candidate: speaking out of both sides of his mouth in the most charming way possible.
Mutt may not age well beyond the next Presidential election, but that being said, it’s worth checking out as the most topical of topical pieces. Stage Left and Red Tape have a popular production on their hands – with sharp direction, a terrific cast and a mostly-funny script, Mutt is sure to be a hit.
Mutt continues through February 14th at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 3pm. Tickets are $15-$30, and are available by phone (773-975-8150) or online through TheaterWit.org (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at StageLeftTheatre.com. (Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes, includes an intermission)
Photos by Tom McGrath
Aurora Adachi-Winter (Hannah), Nicole Michelle Haskins (Witness, Karen), Ian Daniel McLaren (Zach, others), Michael Reyes (Nick, others), Daniel Smith (Len, Caruthers), Alejandra Vivanco (Quinn, others), Mary Williamson (Miriam, Elizabeth, Nick’s Mom), Cisco Lopez (understudy)
behind the scenes
Vanessa Stalling (director), Jason Crutchfield (stage manager), Emmaline Keddy-Hector (production manager), Katherine Arfken (scenic design), John Kelly (lighting design), Izumi Inaba (costume design), Emily Breyer (prop master), Steve Labedz (sound design), Jon Beal (violence design), Paul Deziel (projections design), Lisa Giebler (technical director), Lesley Fisher Chapman (assistant director), Jenn M. Thompson (assistant stage manager), Krista Mickelson (associate production manager), Zev Valancy (dramaturg), Laura Durham, Drew Martin, Brittany Gillespie, Jordan Fleming (casting), Andrew Hildner (carpenter), Johnny Knight (promotional photography), Tom McGrath (production photography), Sarah Grant (artistic producer, Red Tape Theatre), Vance Smith (artistic director, Stage Left Theatre)