“Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize. So run that ye may obtain.” Corinthians 9:24
The Hippodrome’s latest production, Beth Kandor’s play Running Mates, is a political comedy and so are we.
Yes, folk want to go out for a laugh, but they want to laugh at something or, even better, somebody.
We are requested to cooperate. We are about to make fun gently. We can make each other feel better by laughing at something.
Politics and comedy are inextricably mixed – both because politics is funny and because comedy is a weapon. Which is not to say that politics, like all human endeavors, is not inherently tragic, thus we realists have adopted the tragic view of life. Comedy and tragedy would seem to contradict one another. Shakespeare could meld them in the same play. Reality does the same thing to our views of life, comic or tragic.
Matthew Lindsay plays a small-town Southern politician, Mayor Sam Storm of Anderson, Georgia, who fits the bill perfectly: paunch, drawl, misogyny. It goes under the broad general heading of “conservatism”.
“Now you lissun here.” Matt Lindsay has got the dialect down. Small town in Georgia’s conservative mayor, they talk like iss, they move like iss. Watch how Matt Lindsay moves through this show and you’ll wonder how in the world this Mayor can manage to keep his paunch. The guy is doing a run-walk around the set for two acts. He’s anxious as hell, with good reason – the Mayor’s about to lose his job. A pro’s pro Lindsay doesn’t move a muscle without a reason. And he manages to make Sam likeable. Hell, you might’ve voted for him too – as long as nobody was running against him.
But now someone is. The thing is it’s out of the ordinary. Up to this point, it’s been easy to be mayor.
His wife Sophia, played with a pleasant combination of subtlety and gusto by Joy Lynn Jacobs, is what used to be called “liberal,” which then transformed into “progressive,” while conservatives predictably stuck with “conservative”. Sam thinks and lets it slip that men are superior to women, when all evidence from both the play and reality leads us to the opposite conclusion. Herein lies the comedy. It’s flattering. We are an informed audience – we know more than he does. In fact, we know more than everybody. And that’s funny!
The men are dimwitted, the women are clever. In Lysistrata the women proved their superiority to men by denying them sex, and the fiction lay in the men not just raping and brutalizing them. The Greeks, I guess, were civilized. In this case, the women elect to compete with men for the votes of their fellow citizens. This is the democratic way.
How in the world has Sam managed to win and be re-elected and stay in office so damn long? That’s a mystery that rings true to real life. It says more about the electorate than the candidate. They’re the ones who are really stuck. Sam’s the Mayor but the town pretty much runs itself, in fact history seems to be pretty much running itself and local politics along with it. See Tolstoy: Napoleon was history’s bitch.
Tolstoy took things all too seriously. Fahrenheit 451 took things all too far. Running Mates settles in the middle.
Sophia, during her privileged in-home yoga class, enlists her wily friend Liddie, whose liberal libido is about to get loose, to be her campaign manager, and we’re off to the mayoral races. Liddie gets a yen for Sam’s campaign manager J.B. Jackson, so you see where this is heading.
We’ve got to watch the proceedings as if we don’t know what’s going on in the real Georgia. Put that aside for an evening of entertainment. Leave this to the pros. They’ve got this. Top-notch production values. Everyone hits their marks. Stephanie Lynge’s direction is crisp, fast-paced, staged with cinematic efficiency, each scene cutting to the chase. It’s the well-made play. The French were good at this, the farce.
Andre Sguerra is sublime as the yoga instructor, he finds clarity and reality in the role, and so he is truly funny and puts in relief how hard everyone else has to try. For everyone else, it’s a struggle they overcome to the best of their considerable abilities.
Michelle Bellaver as Liddie has marvelous timing and the generous ability to share a scene. Nicholas Perez-Hoop as J.B. pushes every button on the faulty mechanism of his character, an unreal amalgam of willingly corrupted innocence and political acumen, trying to get the damn thing to work, and that in itself has its humor. But the script establishes situations that compel the actors to go over the top to achieve the necessary pacing, the rhythm of laughs that goes with situation comedy, archetypes, comedia del arte. The yoga instructor is uniquely positioned to ignore all that and just be.
Our sympathies are with Sophia from the start. When it is revealed that the hideous skeleton in her closet is having smoked a joint in college, we want to laugh, but not because it’s funny, because it’s outrageous, and it’s at this point where we start to wonder what it is we’re laughing at, because her offense is not a disqualifier, whereas Sam’s misogyny is.
They have a daughter, wittily and adroitly played by Maggie Cramer, and so the solution becomes generational. That’s called progress, the arc of history bending toward justice and all that. It’s a kind of fairy tale. It plays in the middle. It’s a bourgeois comedy. In Shakespeare’s day its like would have played at night indoors at the Blackfriars Theatre for a well-heeled audience. The Blackfriars Theatre preserved the thrust stage. There was no curtain.
The fact that all this is going through your mind in real time, as you, the studio audience for this sitcom, respond in ways that affect the rhythm, even the meaning, of the comedy – on a thrust stage where every view necessarily includes the audience, so that we share our responses. It’s never like it is at a sporting event with opposite cheering sections. The thrust stage with its three-sided view makes three equal one.
We who enjoy an evening at the stately Hippodrome are the modern equivalent of those at the Blackfriars, or so we might imagine.
These people in this play are well-off too. Their place is well-appointed. The set descends and we are perched above it. The set by Timothy Dygert, the Storm’s up-scale living room, is so perfectly serviceable that it becomes as solid a bourgeois character as any in the play.
This is craft, akin to the old studio system in Hollywood to which French critics would apply the auteur theory to deify the most excellent directors and their work. It is also, of course, a commodity.
You get your money’s worth with Running Mates, a night out in evening wear to laugh and be seen in all conviviality, and, in reflection, subscribers, you got more than your money’s worth with Fahrenheit 451, so you’re well ahead of the game.
Performances of “Running Mates” run through October 30. Tickets can be purchased at
TheHipp.org or by calling (352) 375-4477.