Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Winning the Future
Up & Down Theatre
Review by Frances Madeson

Also see Rob's review of Lady Chatterley's Lover and
Dean's recent reviews of Dog Sees God and You Can't Take It With You

Va, va, va-voom! In what may be an historic virtual victory for the American theater, Up & Down Theatre's YouTube spoof Make America Great Again has gone vi, vi, vi, viral, receiving over 13 million views.

If that wasn't sufficiently spectacular, Brooklyn's Lindsey Hope Pearlman, and Santa Fe's Robin Holloway and Kate Chavez, the trio of LISPA grads who comprise Up & Down, have brought an almost medicinally healing comic salve to the 2016 election season. Their entertaining balm is in the form of a live stage show—Winning the Future—which closed its mostly sold-out run at The Adobe Rose Theatre in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on November 6.

Many of the theatrical elements that render watching Make America Great Again so satisfyingly comical—Andrews Sisters vocal stylings deployed to deliver what is, after all, a litany of real-life offenses; an almost devotional attention to production values (netted cloches, the swirled silver cigarette case, a retro popcorn box); refreshing specificity of language ("you could hang your slave on a cottonwood tree"); and precision of gesture (mommy shoving cookie in mouth while daddy administers corporal punishment)—are also richly evident in their send-up of what is arguably U.S. electoral politics' lowest moment.

Billed as a "political satire cabaret," the show's title tips its comedic haberdashery to Barack Obama's 2011 inaugural speech, in which he famously said that the country needed to "out-hustle, out-educate, and out-innovate the rest of the world, in order to win the future." The cog diss between the rhetoric of innovation and the reality of policies of endless war and same-ole-same-ole fossil fuel extraction is part of the rich satirical terrain this 5-year-old company mines in WTF.

Trained in the Jacques Lecoq performance technique of physical theatre, the former classmates and co-creators are at heart sketch comedians who, using a variety show format, are just as likely to sing and dance their aspirations as enact them in speech. The 65-minute show trucks primarily in the realm of electoral politics, but if it's partisan, it's for a future where an artistic idiom as innocent and unabrasive as the one they excel in can still have a legitimate place in the cultural discourse without being regarded as hopelessly passé or flaccidly ineffectual.

With goofy gyrations, funny foreign accents, and the wry art of the raised eyebrow, Up & Down posits its collective talent in the face of hyper-technology, environmental sacrifice zones, mass extinctions and disposable populations. Willing court jesters, they broach difficult topics and give themselves permission to say anything they want, as long as they bring the laughter.

Kate Chavez and Lindsey Hope Pearlman
Robin Holloway on piano

Photo by Linda Carfagno
The attractive troupe storms the stage with quick grapevine steps and celebratory smiles to sing their unabashedly hopeful hearts out in a doo-wop inflected opening number about a silly future where corporations are still people, but they're all like Mr. Rogers: where our skin is blemish-free, where we get around by "budget-buy, low-fare teleportation," and tantric female orgasms make us yodel and ululate with abandon.

With Bob Fosse hands and synchronized short kicks, Pearlman and Chavez harmonize their desire for a future in which "all our dreams come to full fruition," while Holloway, looking like a lightly bearded, wide-eyed Tommy Smothers on steroids, plays the American flag-draped electronic keyboard with every bit of rip-roaring oomph he's got.

All of the tunes are originals, composed by Holloway (an accomplished musician who holds multiple degrees in jazz piano), and traverse pop musical styles—ballads, polkas, hip-hop, anthems. This sets them apart from other ensembles like The Capitol Steps, who typically make up clever new lyrics to already familiar songs. Though time will tell if any of Winning the Future's numbers rise to earworm status, you might just find yourself singing certain pleasant and catchy refrains as you log on your email ("So connected...") or think about our soon to be former president ("O-BAH-ma, O-BAH-ma.")

As the lights dim on the opening number, off come their wraps revealing more elegant attire, and we're clinking glasses at a cocktail Benefit to Unify Millionaire Philanthropists, or BUMP, a networking group whose members can share their passion "for feeling good about ourselves." The pleasures here are all in the surprising wordplay and gentle mockage of the self-centric members of BUMP who get off, so to speak, on applying bandaids to the world's worsening inequalities, while enjoying fine wines in crystal flutes. Every swallow is followed by a satisfied "Ahhh,"and soon hiccups, and then giggles. When one guest compliments another on establishing a new Kenyan-aid foundation with the acronym of F.U.C.K., he retorts: "It was the most I could do."

A toe-tapping, do-si-do-ing polka called "White Privilege" follows, and segues perfectly into the video Trump Face, which is also posted on Up & Down's website and YouTube. The videos help smooth the transitions between scenes, which involve several fetching costume changes.

Trump Face, played by Chavez, is seen frolicking in Santa Fe—riding in a pedicab, bagging fresh greens in the Whole Foods, and taking possession of a port-a-potty with an air of smug conquest. The ubiquity of his mostly contorted face in settings both banal (in front of the ice cream truck, later sitting on a park bench at the plaza eating it) and totally contrived (patting adorable little New Mexican children on the head) is a distillation of what remains when the hate speech and demagoguery are subtracted from the equation.

Chavez also plays Ivanka Trump who, with an ill-fitting blonde wig, via a vapid pop song ("A Woman Knows") has an epic fail both as a campaigner and daughter. Try as she might to stay on message in advocating for her father with women voters, her true feelings of revulsion and fury at the very thought of his put-downs and "pussy-grabbing" bleed through until she completely melts down.

"Daddy," she cries, "stop trying to date my friends. It's gross!"

Bernie Sanders, played by Pearlman, is the only candidate who actually speaks in the show, and her impersonation of his staccato delivery is the stuff of classic comedy. The primary loser is portrayed as a bad Borscht Belt comedian, issuing forth one groaner after another, including the unfortunate phrase "black coffee matters." He's a messy-haired buffoon who likes milk in his coffee, "but not the 1%."

Holloway too has a turn at cross-dressing in a fantastical scene in which German chancellor Angela Merkel discovers a loophole in American law that would allow her to pursue the presidency if she marries Arnold Schwarzenegger. She'll be the "Isolde to his Tristan, the sturm to his drang" she patters in a wooing song.

A bushy-eyebrowed Ralph Nader is vilified as a third-party spoiler in a Public Enemy-style rap, Paul Ryan who "blows harder than the housing bubble" is crooned to as a hunky blue-eyed husk in a corny country rock song, and President Obama's mixed legacy of modest advances and grave disappointments is wistfully memorialized in a bittersweet ballad.

In a show where "drones" are rhymed with "scones," the banality of American evil is duly recognized. But in the razzle dazzle finale, hope is rekindled in a rousing climate change anthem called "Do Something!" If you weren't already motivated to join the kick line to save "the Earth, the only Mama we got," the cumulative impact of Winning the Future just might move you to action where it might really count—outside of the voting booth, after Election Day.

Up & Down Theatre's Winning the Future, written by and starring Lindsey Hope Pearlman, Kate Chavez and Robin Holloway, and directed by Michael Goldfried, ran through November 6, 2016, at Adobe Rose Theatre in Santa Fe, NM. For more information on the company, visit