Writer/directors Catherine Butterfield and Ron West have titled this collection of comedy sketches, presented by the Open Fist Theatre Company, Welcome to Your Alternative Reality — an apt reference to what millions of Americans experience each day as they digest news of our mangled government construct and its inept and puerile president.
It must be said that the show’s press release is a bit misleading, as it implies that the satire is predominantly political in nature. In fact, the writers cheat somewhat by juxtaposing their lampoons of the Establishment with other targets for burlesque. There are familiar tropes about put-upon screenwriters or actors — the sort of material that usually finds a knowing, appreciative audience among L.A. theatergoers, but which really has little to do with the current deplorable state of affairs in our nation. Other sketches target the male chauvinist creeps among us, our vulnerability to malevolent hackers and the propensity for dominant groups to force their views on the minority – illustrated when disgruntled members of a 16th-century Indian tribe (Josh Banday and Kiley Everhardt) commiserate over the ruling Spaniards, who are interfering with their rite of human sacrifice.
Whether timely or no, most of the sketches cleverly build around the foibles of human nature, and are brought to life by a mostly versatile ensemble with comic chops and a crisp sense of timing. And the most politically relevant material is always on-point.
The scene that best defines the evening’s ironic theme takes place near the top and is titled “Embrace It.” A new psychiatric patient (Tisha Terrasina Banker) visits a well-recommended analyst (Bjorn Johnson), seeking help for her depression and feelings of hopelessness — only to be informed in no uncertain terms that the situation is hopeless indeed, and that learning to laugh ironically is her best bet for emotional survival.
In the wry but unsettling “Line of Succession” (Yes, it could happen here!), an average citizen (Dylan Maddalena) is accosted in his home by two FBI agents (Banday and Lane Allison) who interrogate him as a possible subversive, while simultaneously confirming his position in line for the U.S. Presidency.
A droll reflection on the breast-beating — and finger-pointing — that took place in progressive circles following Donald Trump’s election, “Support Group” presents an assemblage of citizens (Beth Robbins, Paul Mischeshin, Everhardt, Banker and Allison), each of whom has committed a faux pas at the ballot box that contributed to his victory. (Some are forgiven, others are not.)
And in “Nylah and Mr. Green,” it’s hard not to cheer when an elderly African-American granddad (Banday) tongue-lashes his ambitious TV journalist granddaughter (Emily Tunon) for mouthing lies on a TV broadcast for an outlet resembling Fox News.
All told, it’s an entertaining evening, with the promise of diversion from the twisted lunacy of today’s headlines amply fulfilled, although more sketches with pointed political commentary would have been welcome.
Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p. m.; (no performances July 28-29); through August 12. (323) 882-6912, openfist.org.