by JK Clarke
Have you had enough of the campaigning and politics of the 2016 Presidential election? It seems like every time you turn around there’s another debate, scandalous news story or “latest poll” for the election that won’t be held for more than a year from now. And it’s already been going on for six months! Well, if you’re one of the few who just can’t get enough, then perhaps Heather Smiley for President (directed by Mark Marcante and playing at Theater for the New City through October 25), a thinly veiled musical parody of the current US Presidential election cycle, is perfect for you. If not, well . . .
Heather Smiley for President is as contemporary as a musical can be. It begins in the near past, with various GOP candidates (with hacky names that sound a lot like members of the current field, e.g. “Donald Rump,” “Ted Obtuse”) declaring themselves running for President, as well as Heather Smiley (who is unmistakably Hillary Clinton, played by Rebecca Holt) working with her aides and trying to quiet her bumbling, lecherous husband Bob (Joris Suyck, who sounds like and slightly resembles Bill Clinton) to keep him from damaging her campaign. It moves through the present and the recent GOP debates (making the candidates out to be total lunatics and/or fanatics, which is the satirical equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel) to the future, and an imagined election which is decided after an on-air gaffe by dark horse candidate, the preacher/politician George Worthington (Todd Lewis), who is set up early on as the central opponent to Heather’s candidacy. Worthington, of course, despite his piety and position within the Republican party, is defined by contradictions and hypocrisy: his wife Martha (the charming Carol Tammen) snorts cocaine, smokes pot, pops pills and drinks non-stop; his son, George Jr. (Jacob Storms), is romantically involved with a progressive author, curiously also named Martha (Melissa Carlile-Price)—who is writing a scathing takedown of his father—in a relationship obviously influenced by the marriage of political operatives James Carville and Mary Matalin.
The narrative of the election cycle is punctuated by several numbers (music by Arthur Abrams)—some solo, some ensemble, and many non-essential—all of which sound a little too alike: bouncing piano and drum and cymbal-driven and vaguely militaristic; basically variations on “Hail to the Chief,” full of pomp and exuberance. Lyrically (Tom Attea), they’re unimaginative and deliberate (“Trustin’ in God/And his only son,/And Givin’ My Nod /To packin’ a gun” sings conservative candidate Worthington), and only occasionally well-sung. The only bright spot is the cast’s enthusiasm, which almost compensates for what the book, lyrics and music lack.
Even though this parody adds nothing new or insightful to discussions about the candidates or the political process, were the production only an hour long it might be moderately palatable. But at nearly two and a half hours it feels interminable. The need to re-hash an already over-reported, pre-primary presidential campaign is questionable to begin with; but to ask an audience to sit through 150 minutes of it is inexcusable. Heather Smiley For President starts out on shaky ground then proceeds to push beyond the limits of acceptability and endurability. Kind of like a presidential campaign.
Heather Smiley For President. Through October 25 at Theater for the New City (155 First Avenue, between 9th and 10th Streets). www.theaterforthenewcity.net