The Patriot Act: A Modern Burlesque du Politique

Comedy comes in many flavors, some sublime, some outrageous. Burlesque, emphasizing the physical and instinctive aspects of humankind, definitely falls into the latter category. So, to mix this genre with a subject as complicated and controversial as the USA Patriot Act of 2001 is much like the fairy tale princess who asked her suitors to bring her something "as hot as summer, as cold as winter." It can be done, and with great pleasure, but the results are fleeting and not without side effects.

Nevertheless, The Patriot Act, now running at the LIDA Project, is an attempt to marry these qualities in one coherent artistic statement. Conceived and directed by Sasha Zeilig and written by Adam Chanzit, the production draws not only from traditional burlesque, but from the circus, political satire, commedia dell'arte, and the modern comedy club.

The MC, Mysta Cool, the ever-smooth Trey Johnson, sets the scene by explaining the intelligence community's longstanding lust for extraordinary police powers, citing examples as far back as the Revolutionary-era Alien and Sedition Acts up to the post-WWII witch hunts of Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

Photo of Courtney Hayes and Moriah Orsinger as Hoot & Annie
Courtney Hayes and
Moriah Orsinger
as Hoot & Annie
Then, an irreverent romp—through the sexed-up commercial landscape of contemporary American culture and its thickening Orwellian atmosphere—is led by Hoot & Annie, two titillating young ladies who, in varying degrees of undress, attempt to escape from the double-barreled mischief of the cowboy President, Sheriff Beaver. The nubile pairing of Courtney Hayes and Moriah Orsinger is energetic and sweet, with a twist of naughtiness.

During their escapades, which admittedly keep one focused on the action, they are heckled from the peanut gallery by Sir Libby Left and Sir Torrie Right, a pair of aging lobbyists/legislators of the kind whom one might find in the middle of any corporate campaign to manipulate public policy. While Ken Witt and Rich Young, as the vociferous duo, don't stuff payola into the cowgirls scanty outfits, they do manage to hurl a salty mix of sexual innuendo and political invective at appropriate junctures.

Photo of David Ballew as Sheriff Beaver
David Ballew as Sheriff Beaver
Whenever the Sheriff/President, a violence-prone, double-speaking rascal played by David Ballew, gets out of hand, shooting guns or rounding up the public for incarceration, S & M Diva steps in to administer justice and remind the rabid Commander-in-Chief of the principles upon which this country was founded. Hart DeRose delights as the devilish dominatrix, using her whip with calculated effect.

In his quest to remove our fundamental laws, which are written on one of Hoot's provocative outfits, the Sheriff stops at nothing, including murder and other forms of state terrorism. Gradually, the rest of the population, represented by strippers, singers, a contortionist, and a clown, begin to chafe under the fascist policies and hypocritical lifestyle of our leader.

All of the action takes place on a proscenium stage amidst a faux nightclub setting of cabaret tables, couches, risers and chairs, and is set to the music of "Suzi and the Manshe's," a blend of jazz segues and the blues. Especially thrilling was Suzi's bottleneck guitar on a ditty sung by the Three Little Pigs.

Other children's stories that are woven into Hoot & Annie's adventures include Goldilocks and the Three Bears and Little Red Riding Hood. There's even a nod to the famous globe scene from Chaplin's The Great Dictator.

However, while the entertainment is amusing, don't expect to be reminded of Gypsy Rose Lee, Cirque du Soleil, Lenny Bruce or Mort Sahl. Instead, think "Alice in the Tenderloin." It's a shame this couldn't have been produced in a seedy club. I kept wishing for more incisive political commentary, such as is found in the program, to infiltrate the skits and songs, and for the talent to visit my table, light my cigar, and refill my drink.

As disturbing as the rape of our constitution is at the hands of small group of people who financially benefit from the outrageous lies that preceded and followed 9-11, and as much as I must salute any attempt to take our un-elected leaders to task on their cynical strategy, I can't help but wonder if, by glossing over the details and seriousness of what is going on, the staging of The Patriot Act doesn't marginalize these horrendous activities, further inuring us to the destructive behavior that supports our non-sustainable lifestyles?

Bob Bows


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