If you find yourself taking this election season as little too seriously, are sick of self-important talking heads on TV, or if you want a few good-natured laughs, POTUS Among Us by the Washington Improv Theater delivers.
This company has been around DC for over a decade, putting on long-form improv shows and improv classes. Mark Chalfant is the Artistic Director behind the insanity (and also directs POTUS), and Managing Director Rachel Grossman keeps things running.
POTUS Among Us is a quadrennial favorite. They do it every general election, but since it is improv, every show is new. Closing night is November 5th, which should be quite a night. In one of their first shows of the run, their energy was already off the charts and there is just so much to laugh at this time around, no matter which side of the aisle you sit on.
In 90 minutes, the performers go through every part of an election. A few of the sketches have a formal structure like the debates or the news casts, but most of the play is more traditional improv where anything goes and an inspired performer can tap out those onstage and take the play anywhere they want, from the candidates’ bedrooms to straw polls on Election Day.
Improvisation for 90 minutes straight is no small feat, especially when the audience is an integral part of the action. The play begins the moment you walk in the theater, with the candidates pitching themselves in the lobby and other actors inside the theater handing out sheets of paper for you to write issues, heroes, and questions on that become an integral part of the action in every way imaginable throughout the piece. It doesn’t end there. You can’t zone out in the audience during this one, as you may find yourself composing poetry or creating slogans on a moment’s notice.
Perhaps the funniest thing about long-form improv like this is that the actors have a chance to riff on a theme and they do a fabulous job pulling out the most obscure references mentioned randomly at the beginning of the play over and over again. I had so much fun because the comedy was so smart, eviscerating our political process in general and firing quite a few shots at this year’s race. I burst out laughing uncontrollably time after time, but it was especially fun to see good comedy that isn’t mean. Here we can laugh at the ridiculousness, but still go vote with something like pride on November 6th for whichever candidate. This is a truly bipartisan play, though not always PG.
Two newscasters keep the action going and Director Mark Chalfant did a great job balancing between more formal skits, actors, and all out chaos. Each performer got in some major laughs and no one sketch dragged on too long.
Perhaps the man with the most work to do was Lighting Designer Jonathan Zucker. In a play that used the entire space including in the audience and around the stage, he managed to keep everybody in their best light. Sound Designer Christopher Baine deserves a shout out for similar quick work as well as digging up some excellent ‘presidential’ music.
The cast in alphabetical order is Michael Bird, Jon Chesebro, Archie Cubarrubia, Maggie Dempsey, Jules Duffy, Justus Hammond, Abbey Kos, Karen Lange, Jamie Lantinen, Dan Miller, Aaron Mosby, Elizabeth O’Neill, Caroline Pettit, Laura Spadanuta, Kate Symes, Michelle Swaney, Stewart Walsh, Josh Waytz, and Katie Walls. They are all talented improv actors with great timing and what’s more, they were generous with each other – ribbing each other and tossing jokes with little thought to the spotlight. Improv is a unique skill, especially when you have to maintain it for an hour and a half and they’re more than qualified. It also requires a lot of guts, especially in this play because it is an election and audience is voting…loudly. Though perhaps my favorite moments where when they themselves couldn’t keep a straight face. They seemed to be enjoying the fun as much as the audience.
An astute, good-natured poke at our politics and the politicians that make it possible, POTUS Among Us is a DC treasure.
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.