Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: It seems ridiculous that someone such as Penelope Easter could be a legitimate candidate for a significant electoral office. She is a politically inexperienced former roller derby queen bankrolling her own campaign. Seriously?
In the outrageous and darkly comic “The Totalitarians” now at Capital Stage, Penny is the kind of candidate who can’t get out of her own way. She continually mangles the language and offends anyone within earshot with off-color, offhanded observations. She doesn’t mind telling it like is – or how she thinks it is – no matter how impolitic, offensive or vulgar she is.
She makes nonsensical pronouncements that are more anthemic bluster than political strategy. Lo and behold, people seem to like her. She’s on a roll thanks to the words she enthusiastically reads, written for her by harried campaign manager Francine.
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This story is not so much ripped from today’s headlines as an eerie comic parallel to daily comments on your Twitter feed.
Playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s rowdy political farce “The Totalitarians” must have felt like a darkly funny, Sarah Palin-inspired riff on candidates behaving badly when first produced in 2014. In the current production under Peter Mohrmann’s bravura direction at Capital Stage, the Palin shoe still fits, the play stays brutally satirical throughout, and somehow it doesn’t feel farfetched at all.
While it’s Penny who is trying to get elected to an unidentified state office, Nachtrieb’s cockeyed story centers on the lives of her campaign manager/speechwriter, Francine, and Francine’s husband, Jeffrey. He is a doctor with a very sick patient, and she is obsessed with getting Penny to say the right thing.
They have reached a crucible in their marriage with Jeffrey thinking it’s time they had children while Francine feels it’s time she reached the big time. They have no illusions about the intelligence or electability of Penny, however, so when she suddenly becomes viable it’s a shock to them both.
Cassidy Brown has honed Jeffrey to nebbish perfection and Kelley Ogden again proves she is a gifted comedienne with her distressed Francine.
Set in “some version of Nebraska in the not-too-distant future,” Penny initially comes off as a benignly daft Midwestern mom. Jamie Jones’ lusty, irrepressible Penny certainly has charisma (which she comically mispronounces as Cha-risma, as in Cheerios) while she simultaneously makes you cringe and root for her.
Jones regales us with full dynamo mode, so prepare to have your hair happily blown back. No one knows where she stands on anything, but it doesn’t matter because there aren’t really any issues in this election.
In a fit of desperation, Penny’s put-upon campaign manager comes up with a slogan and speech that has galvanized the local electorate. It has also mobilized a shadowy insurgency that sees an insidious underside to Penny’s sudden rise. Casey Worthington completes the cast as Jeffrey’s patient Ben, who also has dynamic political action on his mind.
The production creates its own skewed equilibrium as it shifts from dexterous verbal comedy to darker-edged absurdity.
It has been often pointed out in this most extraordinary election cycle “you can’t make this stuff up,” and the fiction of this play has a “could happen” vibe.
What: Capital Stage presents the play by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb. With Jamie Jones, Kelley Ogden, Cassidy Brown, and Casey Worthington. Peter Mohrmann directs.
Where: Capital Stage, 2215 J St., Sacramento
When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays - Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through July 24.
Information: 916-995-5464; capstage.org
Running time: two hours including one intermission.