As the country hurtles toward the primary season and Republican candidates vying for the presidential nomination perform Punch-and-Judy antics in a series of televised debates, accusations and insults are flying and at least one former frontrunner has been undermined by scandal.
The timing couldn’t be any better for Early Bird Dinner Theatre’s production of Michael Parker’s “The Sensuous Senator,” running through Dec. 23, at the Italian American Club, 200 S. McMullen Booth Road.
“The Sensuous Senator” takes place in the 1990s and was probably at least partially inspired by that decade’s many alleged indignities which besmirched politicians and public servants in every branch of government and on either side of the aisle.
As the farce opens, Parker introduces Senator Harry Douglas. In Harry, the playwright crafted a smooth-talking presidential candidate who has based his campaign on morality and family values. In announcing his candidacy, Harry boasts about his fidelity, his moral fiber and his integrity – and protests vehemently when a reporter from the “National Intruder” questions him about his relationship with his secretary.
A short while later, after his wife leaves for an engagement in Chicago, Harry finds himself alone and immediately phones his secretary, Veronica, and invites her to spend the night.
When she reports that she has other plans, Harry immediately calls an escort agency and arranges for an escort.
Of course, this is a farce – so everything that can go wrong with Harry’s scheme does, leading to nonstop amusement.
Toby Manion stars as Harry in one of his best performances to date. In the opening scene, when Harry is announcing his intention to run for president, Manion projects the perfect mixture of charisma and bluster.
Suave and silver-tongued one minute and impishly libidinous the next, Manion’s possesses an ability to maintain an aura of plausible deniability as the situation he created through his own deceit and disloyalty quickly spirals out of control. It’s that overconfidence on the part of the main character – that Harry can still control the outcome – that makes the endless improbabilities so much more hilarious.
Equally talented in this production is Rick Kistner who plays a senior Congressman and friend of Harry, Clyde Salt. Clyde’s ill-timed arrival at Harry’s house sets into motion the series of events that thwart the intended tryst. It’s unfair to categorize “The Sensuous Senator” strictly as a bedroom farce because a significant number of laughs are generated not by classic farce moments but by political satire. Clyde’s mocking commentary on modern politics will keep this play topical for decades to come, and Kistner injects an understated cynicism to his character to underscore the sardonic observations.
Ian MacCallum plays Harry’s nephew, Jack Maguire, a first-term Congressman. After he drinks a brandy – laced with sleeping powder intended for Clyde – poor novice Jack finds himself pursued by Harry’s persistent escort. MacCallum does a great job of making the character institutionally ignorant and terminally gullible.
Barbara Anthony is excellent as Fiona, the escort trying to keep Jack from nodding off; and Tracy Borgatti’s rendition of the imposing Veronica is outstanding whether she’s scolding Harry for botching their rendezvous or playing hide-and-seek above and beneath the bed.
Solid performances also are given by Francine Wolf as Lois Douglas, Susan Dearden as the reporter Miss Morrison and Brent Ballard as the Policeman.
The satire never overwhelms the inherent silliness of “The Sensuous Senator.” Parker’s farce is a gift to those already growing weary of election-year politics: It’s enjoyable escapist fun that elicits lots of laughter with well-crafted political caricatures.
Seating for performances is Thursday through Sunday, 4 p.m. Seating for matinees is Thursday and Saturday, 11 a.m. Cost is $29.90 a person. For reservations, call 446-5898. Visit www.earlybirddinnertheatre.com.