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Tail! Spin!

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Nate Smith, Arnie Burton, Rachel Dratch, Sean Dugan, and Tom Galantich.
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Political scandals are supposed to be no laughing matter, but someone forgot to tell Mario Correa. The mastermind behind Tail! Spin!, which just opened at the Culture Project's Lynn Redgrave Theater, has succeeded in making completely losing all faith in our elected officials one of the best times you're likely to have at the theater this fall. Whether you take this as good news or bad news, Correa, director Dan Knechtges, and a cast led by a pitch-perfect Rachel Dratch, ensure that you always take it as funny.

Not sexy, though—and really not sexy, despite the fact that these are all sex scandals. Correa has cobbled together from actual interviews, instant messages, tweets, and other public records an invasive look at how four politicians—Republicans Larry Craig (Sean Dugan), Mark Foley (Arnie Burton), and Mark Sanford (Tom Galantich), and Democrat Anthony Weiner (Nate Smith)—are all taken down as much by their lack of common sense, and momentary forgetfulness that in the Internet age nothing is private, as they were by their libidos.

Correa's skillful blending of speeches and sound bites, both verbal and digital, skewers the men even as it comments on the underlying cultural sclerosis that spawned them. Craig, accused of illegally soliciting gay sex in an airport restroom, shrivels into incoherence when confronted with facts on all sides. Weiner assumes his wit and savvy on Twitter are enough to safeguard him from criticism. Foley tries to hide his own attraction for boys behind child porn criminalization bills. And Sanford's treatment of his wife and his voters torpedoes his own ambitions when he's got cheating and abandoning office. (Rest assured that Sanford's latest escapade, breaking up with his fiancée and castigating his ex-wife in an epically rambling mid-September Facebook post, is included.)

Though it's sharper and cleaner than when it premiered at the 2012 New York International Fringe Festival, Tail! Spin! remains in no way complex or unpredictable; most of the events it depicts we know all too well, and though Knechtges has a bit of fun with it, especially when three or four scenes jumble together at once, his staging unfurls in a largely static stand-and-speak debate format (with patriotically colored scenery and projections by Caite Hevner Kemp). But it doesn't have to be revolutionary in its content: Its organization and scalpel-edged insight on how related and unrelated moments can interlock to form a greater, scarier point about the people we elect to make our laws brands it instantly as satire that, most of the time, is just a little too real.

Dratch, the Saturday Night Live veteran who plays the observing women behind the men and in front of the TV news cameras (her glamorously ditzy Barbara Walters is a major highlight), is its prime delivery mechanism here. Her every word is broadly pointed, her vocal patterns deliciously almost-accurate caricatures of the people she's embodying, and though it's technically a one-joke role, Dratch sees it never gets old. But it's worth noting she plays little but enablers: the women who, for reasons personal, professional, or political are too willing to let the men say and do stupid things time and time again. They and the other members of the media (who also make appearances, most memorably in the form of Sean Dugan's overstuffed Sean Hannity) aren't holding them accountable, making them in many, if not all, cases, as guilty as the men they're protecting.

Not that Correa, Knechtges, or their actors let the men off the hook. No one is more vicious than Smith, whose Weiner is flawlessly realized: a toxic, irritating combination of gregariousness, self-entitlement, and holier-than-thou humor, wrapped in a blindingly over-the-top Brooklyn-Jewish accent, and capped with dozens of microscopic physical mannerisms and tics betraying the truth of the antsiest man alive. But Dugan's Owyhee Desert–dry Craig is nearly as uproarious in his utter absence of self-awareness. Galantich nicely captures Sanford's too-confident body language, but doesn't mine as much humor as you might expect from his more loquacious moments, and Burton pushes too hard to even register as Foley (though, to be fair, that segment is weaker and less specific than the others).

One cautionary note: Though you'll be inclined to, don't laugh too hard. What emerges most succinctly and soberingly from Tail! Spin! is the unsettling sense of decay that's settled into our governing class, and that we're all too willing to accept. Though on some level it's interesting that Correa eschews addressing actual political issues beyond these scandals' spheres, something that on the outside might seem to give the 75-minute evening a more potent relevance, it actually makes total sense: These sorts of shenanigans make it impossible to focus on the things that actually matter to our lives. But even that shows we're not fully lost yet. After all, who can take a message seriously when there's no reason to trust its messenger?

Tail! Spin!
Through November 30
Lynn Redgrave Theatre, 45 Bleecker Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: OvationTix

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