Though there’s plenty of fodder for a few jokes in the Alaska political scene this time around, the presidential drama was too good to leave alone this year.
Several of the “candidates” will step up on stage in Kenai during Triumvirate Theatre’s annual “Lame Ducks & Dark Horses: An Evening of Civilized Alaskan Political Discourse… With Jokes” production, opening Friday. The political satire, written and performed in a sketch comedy patterned after “Saturday Night Live,” pokes fun at government and election snafus at every level from the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly to the White House.
The show draws on a long tradition of political comedy and has appeared at the Triumvirate for many years. Some races provide more material than others. One of the challenges this year, in fact, was not finding the material. It was working with the outrageous reality, said Joe Rizzo, one of the writers.
“What we’ve found in writing this show is the problem that many comedy writers around the country have in that the reality is so outrageous that we have to go beyond that,” said Rizzo, who also plays a number of roles in the production.
For instance, the production’s representation of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump — played by Tyler Payment — draws lines frequently from speeches or headlines. To play the candidate accurately in speech and mannerism, Payment said he watched a lot of film of Trump’s speeches.
Though national figures, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson — played by Hannah Tauriainen and Jamie Nelson, respectively — make themselves major figures in the production, Alaska politicians can’t be counted out.
“I’m the unity governor! I’ve brought diverse groups of Alaskans together!” declares Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, played by Chris Pepper, at one point.
“Yeah, they’re all together hating on you for vetoing their PFDs,” mutters state Sen. Lesil McGuire, played by AnnMarie Rudstrom.
Some of the sketches are plainer political discourse than others. One sketch takes the form of a formal political debate, while another features songs with satirical lyrics or a frame scene rife with buried jokes. Local political figures make appearances alongside the national ones, and the cast often swaps between characters to cover all the bases.
Like Alaska politics, some of the characters are recurring. Trump often enters scenes opposite Triumvirate standbys like the Java Hut Girls or Click and Clack, parodies of the characters from the “Car Talk” National Public Radio show played by Rizzo and Chris Jenness, and the writers blend the real events and statements of the campaign with the ridiculous flavor familiar to political comedy.
Some of the politicans are recurring, too. Don Young, Alaska’s Congressman for 43 years, makes a loud appearance, as does Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Back again is Libertarian senate candidate Joe Miller, who is making another run against Murkowski for her seat in the Senate. Jenness, who plays Miller, also played the candidate in 2014, when he last ran.
“I keep growing the beard out (to play Joe Miller),” he joked.
One trick of the writing in the political satire is to flirt with the line between funny and too harsh, Rizzo said. The focus is always to be gentle, he said.
“Really, we have a great deal of respect for those running for office,” he said. “So we never really get nasty.”
Sometimes politicians show up. Murkowski herself attended the show one night a few years ago, Jenness said. With the upcoming four-way Alaska House of Representatives District 30 race approaching in about two weeks, some of the candidates may attend, he said.
“Lame Ducks and Dark Horses: An Evening of Civilized Alaskan Political Discourse… With Jokes” opens Friday at the Triumvirate Theatre on the Kenai Spur Highway in north Kenai at 7 p.m. There is another showing Saturday and again on Nov. 4–5. Tickets cost $15 and can be purchased online from a link on the Triumvirate Theatre’s Facebook page or on Ticketleap.