Northeast Times

The weeks just get more crazy

'This Is The Week That Is' nev­er seems to be at a loss for head­line events or politi­cians that are worth lam­poon­ing.

(left to right) AimŽ Kelly, Dave Jadico, Re­uben Mitchell, Don Montrey, Scott Greer, Susan Ri­ley Stevens, Tabitha Al­len Photo by Mark Garvin

Patsy from Shunk Street is the kind of gal that most nat­ive Phil­adelphi­ans know and love. Pa­ro­chi­al yet en­dear­ing, she sits on her stoop, pon­ders the world out­side her row­house and tells it like it is.

No sub­ject is too elab­or­ate, no top­ic ta­boo.

And at the end of the day, good old Patsy, just like her name sug­gests, gets the short end of the stick.

At least she used to.

Since de­b­ut­ing some five years ago in 1812 Pro­duc­tions’ ori­gin­al cur­rent events satire This Is The Week That Is, Patsy has be­come quite the me­dia darling. She’s been asked to speak at con­ven­tions and con­fer­ences. She’s been in­vited to host a re­cur­ring seg­ment on loc­al ra­dio and con­tin­ues to per­form live to thou­sands each Decem­ber when 1812 rolls out its hit sketch-based com­edy.

“She’s very in-de­mand,” said Jen Childs, the com­pany’s founder, show’s writer/dir­ect­or and the char­ac­ter’s cre­at­or/por­tray­er.

Patsy is one of the few con­stants in This Is The Week That Is, which has evolved with its sub­ject mat­ter from year to year and will con­tin­ue to evolve each day of its cur­rent five-week run at the 300-seat Plays and Play­ers Theatre, 1714 Del­an­cey St. in Ritten­house Square. The show con­cludes on Dec. 31.

“I al­ways say it’s the Car­ol Bur­nett Show meets The Daily Show,” said Childs, a Uni­versity of the Arts alumna and vet­er­an re­gion­al act­ress who in 1997 co-con­ceived what is now billed as the na­tion’s lone pro­fes­sion­al theat­er com­pany ded­ic­ated ex­clus­ively to com­edy.

A BIT OF THIS, A BIT OF THAT

“You have a vari­ety show in the first act, fol­lowed by a news broad­cast in the second act that changes on a nightly basis,” ex­plained Don Montrey, who teamed with Childs to pen the ori­gin­al script and who an­chors the far­cic­al news pro­gram in Act II. “It’s all top­ic­al hu­mor, based on what’s go­ing on in the world right now.”

That means cast mem­bers will rag on usu­ally dry top­ics like the Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial primary cam­paign, the with­draw­al of U.S. mil­it­ary forces from Ir­aq and how Con­gress’ so-called “su­per com­mit­tee” failed to come up with a plan to re­duce the na­tion’s budget de­fi­cit.

And whenev­er more phil­ander­ing al­leg­a­tions sur­face against one-time GOP pres­id­en­tial front-run­ner Her­man Cain, audi­ences can count on a few new gags be­ing ad­ded to This Is The Week.

“It’s hard, (but) in a dif­fer­ent way than oth­er shows, be­cause it changes every day. You’ve got to be able to change and ad­apt,” Childs said hours be­fore the show’s fi­nal pre­view per­form­ance on Nov. 29.

One day earli­er, an At­lanta-area busi­ness­wo­man, Ginger White, had re­vealed pub­licly that she had been in­volved ro­mantic­ally with the mar­ried Cain for 13 years. Cain quickly denied the claims and on Sat­urday he sus­pen­ded his cam­paign.

“Already, we’ve ad­ded a line about Ginger White. To people who come in (to see the show), it’s go­ing to be very fresh be­cause it just happened yes­ter­day,” Childs said.

Iron­ic­ally, while the re­dund­ancy and im­me­di­acy of the con­tem­por­ary news in­dustry provide sat­ir­ists like Childs, Montrey and their fel­low cast mem­bers with plenty of ma­ter­i­al to spoof, it also chal­lenges them to as­sess and un­der­stand their audi­ences more deeply.

SOURCES ARE EVERY­WHERE

When the com­pany pro­duced the in­aug­ur­al This Is The Week in 2006, the num­ber of news sources avail­able to the pub­lic was re­l­at­ively small com­pared to today — when con­sumers have all the con­ven­tion­al sources plus an ever-in­creas­ing volume of In­ter­net blogs from which to choose.

“One of the things we’ve found most dif­fi­cult is the num­ber of ways that people get their news,” Childs said.

By com­par­is­on, back in the early days of TV, news sources could be coun­ted on one hand.

“People watched Wal­ter Cronkite and they all got the same news,” Childs said.

Not co­in­cid­ent­ally, the 1812 stage pro­duc­tion gets its name at least in­dir­ectly from Cronkite’s fam­ous CBS Even­ing News sign-off phrase, “That’s the way it is.” Sim­il­arly, in the early 1960s, a Brit­ish TV news-satire hos­ted by Dav­id Frost used the title, That Was The Week That Was. Frost hos­ted an Amer­ic­an ver­sion with the same title on NBC-TV later that dec­ade.

But aside from that homage to the past, it’s the here and now that most con­cern the folks at 1812. With the eco­nom­ic re­ces­sion drag­ging on, people are fed up with re­ports about un­em­ploy­ment and the high price of gas­ol­ine. So are the char­ac­ters in This Is The Week.

“The theme this year is es­cap­ism fantasy,” Childs said. “The news is so bad, we want to es­cape it. For in­stance, (in one skit) we try to es­cape in­to a Broad­way mu­sic­al be­cause they al­ways have a happy end­ing. And in an­oth­er, we try to es­cape in­to a Humphrey Bog­art movie be­cause he al­ways gets the bad guys.”

DO­ING DOUBLE DUTY

This year’s cast is a mix of com­pany reg­u­lars and new faces, in­clud­ing Scott Greer, Dave Jadico, Aim&ea­cute; Kelly, Re­uben Mitchell, Greg Nix, Thomas E. Shotkin and Tabitha Al­len, along with Childs and Montrey.

Montrey is the chief writer of the news “broad­cast” in Act II, while all cast mem­bers are con­sidered co-writers. Al­len is cred­ited as mu­sic­al dir­ect­or.

Like much com­edy, a thread of ser­i­ous truth un­der­lies the suc­ces­sion of wind-ups, wise­cracks and one-liners. Cast mem­bers see them­selves some­what as a cre­at­ive arm of the “Oc­cupy” move­ment.

“(Oc­cupy demon­strat­ors) feel the sys­tem is broken and that the people who need to be held re­spons­ible are not be­ing held re­spons­ible and, be­cause of that, (people) are be­ing made to suf­fer for oth­ers’ ac­tions,” Montrey said.

By ri­dicul­ing de­serving pub­lic fig­ures, the show can high­light some of the cracks that its cre­at­ors see in the sys­tem. “For us, hu­mor is our way of protest­ing, our way of com­ment­ing and mak­ing our voices heard,” Montrey said.

Laughter has great heal­ing prop­er­ties as well.

“Hu­mor is a great uni­fi­er. There are people who may not agree with our polit­ic­al view­points who still come to the show and have a good time with it,” Montrey said.

“The laughs that we get for the com­edy in this show are dif­fer­ent than those for any oth­er show we do,” Childs said. “They’re deep belly laughs.

“We talk about stuff that’s not al­ways funny, but I think what we find every year is (the men­tal­ity), ‘We’re in this to­geth­er. We’re a com­munity.’” ••

“This Is The Week That Is” con­tin­ues with 20 per­form­ances through Dec. 31. Show days and times vary. Tick­ets range from $20 to $36 and are avail­able via 215-592-9560 or www.1812­pro­duc­tions.org. Vis­it the Web site for in­form­a­tion.

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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