A Different Kind of Spotlight
Members Join Hexagon Troupe This Week
On Wednesday night at Georgetown’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts, 12 Members of Congress will receive a sealed manila folder filled with a peculiar set of talking points. With churning stomachs and sweaty palms, they will read their scripts anxiously and hope that, if all goes well, they are laughed off the stage.
Five representatives from the Washington, D.C., area will join Reps. Brian Baird (D-Wash.), Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.), Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio), Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) and Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) in an evening of satire for Hexagon’s annual Congress Night.
Combining song, dance and sketch comedy for its own brand of political mockery, Hexagon is a nonprofit theater group that has performed in Washington since 1956. Each year the group puts on an original musical comedy revue for charity. The writers, actors, orchestra and crew are all volunteers, most with day jobs that have nothing to do with theater. This year’s production, called “Strike While the Irony’s Hot,” revolves around a circus theme and benefits the construction of a new Ronald McDonald House in the District of Columbia.
“It’s not as if you’re doing a run-of-the-mill show. It’s brand-new, of-the-moment things going on the world right now,” said Mark McCaffrey, who plays a distraught former Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) in a number recalling the infamous macaca incident. (Born and raised in England, McCaffrey prepared for his part by tracking down a clip of the gaffe on YouTube.)
The comedy is bipartisan and sometimes even apolitical. “Lady of the House” pokes fun at the glamour of the first female Speaker, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), while “AC in DC” is a choreographed tap-dance of 30 pink elephants that jokes that the GOP has gone gay. Other songs lampoon new designer shops in Friendship Heights and love-struck, diaper-clad astronauts. But the biggest laughs may come during a “Dr. Phil” sketch titled “Missile Envy,” in which a frothing Kim Jong Il tries to convince President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair that he has very big bombs.
“It’s got to be edgy. If you’re in this business and you can’t stand to be laughed at — you’re in the wrong one,” said Baird, who will contribute a noted Bush impersonation to the show. “But nobody better impersonate me!”
Members’ participation began with the first Congress Night nearly 20 years ago when former Hexagon President Skip Maraney needed a way to fill seats in the middle of the week.
“Luckily, that was the one time we could count on Members being in town,” said Maraney, who has been a part of the troupe since 1964.
Members’ roles are not written into the revue; logistically, it is impossible. Most of the show is composed the previous summer and fall, and no one can be sure of who will be able to commit, let alone survive the previous term’s elections. Instead, Members are placed into existing songs and sketches, leaving audience members to muse on the possibilities. Who will play the two unnamed Senators in a piece chiding District Mayor Adrian Fenty? Which seemly Representative will join the all-male kick line for “My Name is Borat”?
Congress Night has earned its fair share of guffaws over the years, but only some of them have been intentional. In 2003, Julie Rosenthal had done a handful of shows as former Rep. Connie Morella (R-Md.) in a duet with her Congressional successor, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), called “You’re Out of a Job” when she was faced with the real Representative. The production halted in a spat of laughter as the true Van Hollen apologized effusively for Maryland redistricting. On another night, a liberal heckler pestered LaHood (who was struggling to get a laugh) so badly that the Member lashed out with his own challenge. The improvisation garnered him quite an ovation.
“I won the Funniest Celebrity in Washington award two years back and was the runner-up the year before that,” Baird added, an accolade that could make him the most qualified Congressional performer. “It was sort of like being reserve forward for the munchkin basketball team.”
“The great thing about the Members,” said Artistic Director Ian Grossman, “is that they mirror the cast in range of talent.”
Hexagon runs Wednesday through Sunday through March 24. Congress Night will take place at 8 p.m. Wednesday in the theater at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Tickets are available online and at the box office for $20. The school is located at 3500 R St. NW.