Electile Dysfunction
Written & Directed by Martin French

Reviewed by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2012, Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

With each Presidential election campaign I experience, the rancor and polarization of the discourse grows greater and more absurd in its make-up. A process designed to unite us in common purpose has developed into an opportunity to divide and conquer. It is a sad situation for sure, most especially for satirists. This new production from The Alley Theatre illustrates the predicament.

The title indicates a taste for sexual innuendo and double entendre, and there is certainly enough of both in good supply, but the greater challenge is finding less obvious targets to skewer from within a campaign that already occupies a surreal place so far from good sense and practical solutions as to be unrecognizable to any U.S. citizen who values either. So it is perhaps a wise choice for Martin French to focus on the process itself instead of the particulars of the current day-to-day political campaign, delivering sharp observation within an audience-interactive structure that never forces the audience into any semblance of loyalty to anyone named Romney or Obama.

Attendees are taken through nine settings in which they are introduced to the two candidates, both named with some wit: Whig Wanderer David F. Mirkin, who raises vague ineffectualness to a high art; and Anita Peruke, who is equally bland and inoffensive, in spite of the fact that she is a lesbian with a white-trash mistress. The juxtaposition of sexual hot buttons and a smooth and expedient style in this character is one of the show’s smarter choices, highlighting the unquenchable hunger for making controversy palatable that has come to characterize recent American politics.

Just as a focus on the manipulation of the media has made The Daily Show the most effective political satire on a national level, Mr. French’s script is most on target when spotlighting the fraudulent nature of broadcast coverage of the campaign. His debate moderator, Hampton Stonejaw, successfully combines Jim Lehrer’s venerable stoicism with the smarmy, pasted-on charm of a hundred interchangeable CNN/ MSNBC/ FOX automatons.

Yet while the text contains some funny dialogue, it is functionally an outline for moments that require audience participation for its fullest effect. You will be asked to choose a candidate before entering the show, and in the end your votes will determine the winner. Along the way you will be shuffled through three separate performance spaces, getting a full tour of recent Alley Theatre renovations in the process.

Todd Zeigler and Felicia Stewart make for unctuous and nearly impenetrable candidates, although it struck me that the preview performance offered Ms. Stewart better opportunities to score with the audience, and that that these are largely thankless roles overshadowed somewhat by the supporting cast. Kimby Peterson was a trashy delight as Anita Peruke’s mistress, Shooter Demerde; Rachel Caudel was hilariously pious and self-righteous as her wife; and Christopher Folan is almost pitch-perfect as Hampton Stonejaw. “Almost” is the operative word, however, since the preview audience of a handful could hardly provide the energy to feed off of. Mr. Folan’s smart work needs a more forceful, harder edge, and the performance as a whole requires an audience ready to engage with the eager cast.

In these last, exhausting days of the prolonged political season, some laughs at the expense of our partisan obsessions might be the perfect antidote. This entirely original production is the first of three politically minded plays that will populate local stages in the next two weeks, and promises to be the loosest and most unpredictable.

Electile Dysfunction

Friday and Saturday, October 26-November 10
All shows 8:00 p.m.
All seats $10

The Alley Theater

1210 Franklin Street

Louisville, KY 40206