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Election Day

Theatre Reviews by Matthew Murray

Adam Green and Lorenzo Pisoni.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

It's been said that all politics are local, but in Josh Tobiessen's red, white, and blue-faced farce Election Day, they and the people who love (and loathe) them are more specifically loco. Strange bedfellows abound, but when they start showing up anchored to bed frames and severing thumbs, sleep starts looking like a more attractive alternative to the romps these people undergo. All this makes the new show at the McGinn-Cazale Theatre the dramatic equivalent of a hanging chad.

Though Tobiessen's play at first seems to exist only to inject some lightheartedness into the staunchly serious political process, it occasionally reveals a darker hand. The corrupt politicians, protesters, and periphery folk all flocking about an unnamed town's mayoral race are viewed with a surprisingly sympathetic lens, while the apathetic outsider in their midst is a shish ripe for the kebabing. When blood, milk, and various other things start flying in the final scene, the only one who doesn't know to duck is the one who couldn't care less.

But one does not take away from Election Day any sense of overwhelming respect for public servants, let alone the interested bystanders who devote their lives to either putting them there or shutting them out. In fact, one does not take much of anything away from this meandering menagerie of self-concerned citizens, whether the candidate himself, Clark (Lorenzo Pisoni), his rival's chief operative Brenda (Katharine Powell), or her tree-hugging, spiritual partner in crime Edmund (Michael Ray Escamilla) who's happy to embrace the grittier, more violent methods of change Brenda is not.

No, the man in the middle seems to be the lackadaisical Everyman Adam (Adam Green), who doesn't care if the candidate for whom he's designing posters and flyers wins as long as he gets to hang onto Brenda. He's been making plans to move into her apartment, and his chosen election day to take the plunge. Brenda couldn't care less, as long as he gets out and votes against the environmentally unfriendly Clark. But by putting it off, he gets dragged into the troubles of his eccentric sister Cleo (Halley Feiffer) and even meets Clark himself, who's campaigning door to door. (This is, remember, a fantasy.)

But it's not long before everyone's sleeping with everyone else, literally or metaphorically (and in some cases both), to get the outcome they want. Each new plot twist (and there are enough here to make a pretzel jealous) drags them all down deeper into the mire until little remains of them or their beliefs into a hopelessly cynical, hyperactively banal condemnation of the dangers of fringe democracy. Director Jeremy Dobrish has done an admirable job of traffic management, particularly in the later, more frantic scenes, but provides so little justification for everyone saying so little, so loudly and so often, that you're left wondering why they don't all just run for office themselves.

That only works in Pisoni's favor, as his chiseled good looks and Vaseline-slick smile give him the instantly recognizable mien of a snake-oil lobbyist. He's as malleable of voice as he is of face and body, so his oily, percussive tones make him even more believable as a man who can be anything to anyone. You're not given much of an intellectual reason to like Clark, but Pisoni seldom has any trouble sliding you right over into his corner - he's giving the perfect politician performance for this play.

Most everyone else seems to be trying way too hard, and achieving far less. Escamilla's drug-addled Edmund is such a one-dimensional loser, it's never clear why a woman, let alone two, would fall for him; Powell is so explosively stiff as Brenda she resembles a bottle rocket arcing right into the ground; Green barely looks old enough to vote in the first place, and plays Adam as so clueless you can't help but wonder whether he could find his way to ballot box in any event. Feiffer breaks no ground as ditzy, disaffected discontent, but finds comedy in her lines that no one else seems able to find in theirs.

That may be part of the point: Tobiessen wants to prove that, however zany subsidiary happenings might be, election day is no laughing matter. Unfortunately, neither is Election Day.

Election Day
Through August 20
McGinn/Cazale Theatre, 2162 Broadway at West 76th Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: 2econdStageTheatre UPTOWN

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