At Monday’s rehearsal for “Lame Ducks and Dark Horses,” the jokes were so thick, the laughter so omnipresent, that when it came to the actual script, it was hard to keep track of what’s in or out.
Kind of like the Alaska governor’s race, and that’s why “Lame Ducks and Dark Horses” is probably better equipped than any of the Alaska political institutions to handle the late October departure from the race by Gov. Bill Walker.
Starting Friday and Saturday, Triumvirate Theatre’s production of “Lame Ducks and Dark Horses” is back for its sixth go-around. The show happens every two years and features impersonations of local, state and national political figures, and even some actual politicians in the flesh from time to time, including a U.S. senator.
Of the cast of 14, 13 return from previous shows. That has Triumvirate’s Joe Rizzo thinking that Walker’s withdrawal will make the show better, not worse.
Yes, Walker’s picture is affixed to promotional posters for the event, but cast member and ace graphic designer Chris Jenness was already on that Saturday, affixing a “Warning: Jokes subject to change without notice” sticker on the poster on the theater’s Facebook page.
Rizzo said there is a Jay Leno vs. David Letterman way of handling an October surprise. While Leno’s skits tended to founder after encountering the unexpected, Letterman had a way of taking a similar situation to new comic heights.
“That’s kind of what I expect to happen with this group,” Rizzo said. “It’s not a problem to make things up on the spot.”
A week is a luxury. Rizzo said that past shows have morphed depending on which political figures are in the audience.
One year, Sen. Lisa Murkowski made a last-minute appearance. The script has Rizzo and Jenness, as Tom and Ray Magliozzi of “Car Talk,” wondering about the term RINO. Jenness said he thought the term meant Republican In Name Only, but Rizzo thought it came because Murkowski horned her way into the Senate seat of her father, Frank.
“Are we OK here?” Rizzo quickly ad libbed, motioning toward Murkowski. “We might need federal funding to fix the parking lot. You never know.”
While state politics is in a bit of a flux, Pres. Donald Trump is still solidly ensconced in the White House. That means the return of Tyler Payment as Trump.
Payment, a 2007 graduate of Nikiski High School, has been involved in Triumvirate since his prep days. But 2016 was his first “Lake Ducks and Dark Horses,” and his Trump created somewhat of a sensation.
Payment, an engineer in life off the stage, said he was on a job site when someone said, “I know you from somewhere. Oh my god, you’re the guy that plays Trump.”
Rizzo said “Lame Ducks and Dark Horses” balances the fact that the sitting president must be lampooned, but also that most have Trump fatigue at this point.
That being said, a Trump-driven Star Trek spoof and parody of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” won’t have Payment’s star diminishing anytime soon.
“I want to get a Tweet from him, ‘Went to the Trump play. Not very good. Guy who plays Trump is kind of fat. Kind of a loser,’” Payment said.
In all seriousness, Payment said what makes his Trump work is that the skits are not mean and they are not pushing a political agenda.
“Nothing is ever mean in these shows,” Payment said. “What it is, is, ‘Let’s laugh.’ Everybody should be able to laugh at everybody in these shows.”
Rizzo agrees, saying humor, and not any ideology, always rules in the show.
“These shows get everybody together laughing,” Payment said. “It gives people an outlet. It may get them thinking about the election but we’re all just here having fun.”
In that vein, “Lame Ducks and Dark Horses” is bringing back the John McCain and Sarah Palin press conference rag, a parody of a popular number in the musical “Chicago.”
The 2008 skit was dusted off not only because it was popular at the time, but also to honor the deceased Arizona senator, and a different era. At least from the perspective of a writer for community theater, Rizzo said the second “Lame Ducks and Dark Horses” was much easier to write than the sixth because of the current degree of polarization.
“At the time of that election, we were more civil to one another,” Rizzo said. “People weren’t so mean, especially about politics, and everything wasn’t so partisan.”
Payment had the idea to bring the number back. It’s a tough one — the only thing the cast really struggled with Monday — so Payment is happy to be sitting it out.
“I was on ‘The Apprentice’ then,” Payment said.
Brie Havrilla is the lone new cast member, while Rizzo, Payment, Chris Jenness, Carla Jenness, Chris Pepper, Kate Schwarzer, AnnMarie Rudstrom, Hannah Tauriainen, Rob Ernst, Brian Lyke, Charlissa Magan, Erin Micciche and Shaylon Cochran all return.
The show was written by Rizzo, Chris Jenness, Carla Jenness, Jenny Neyman and Schwarzer. Paulene Rizzo and Carlee Rizzo handle lights and sound.
Refreshments will be sold, with proceeds going to the Nikiski Children’s Fund, which provides for local kindergarten through 12th-grade students in need of everything from a pair of shoes to a temporary place to live.
The show runs for two weekends. The first is Friday and Saturday. The second is Nov. 2 and 3. All shows start at 7 p.m. at Triumvirate North, five miles out of Kenai on the Kenai Spur Highway. Ticket prices vary by seating arrangement, but average $22. They’re available online through www.triumviratetheatre.org before the show, and at the door, but this show often sells out.