George and Laura Bush Perform . . . Our Favorite Sitcom Episodes
nytheatre.com review by Michael Mraz
August 23, 2009
Saturday Night Live has made George W. Bush sketches iconic. It almost feels like words such as "strategery" and phrases like "don't mess with Texas" were originated through Will Farrell's impressions rather than by the man himself. Of course, most of these worked because they were presented in sketch form, never much longer than five or ten minutes. The inherent problem in Ryan Gajewski's new play George And Laura Bush Perform...Our Favorite Sitcom Episodes is that, despite truly stellar performances by Peter Zerneck and Jennifer Tullock as George and Laura, it tries to stretch a pretty funny sketch idea into 70 minutes of theatre.
George And Laura Bush's premise is that, since leaving the White House, the First Couple has been passing their time touring small theaters performing episodes of iconic sitcoms. With "this performance," they choose to perform the famous I Love Lucy episode where Lucy gets a job at a chocolate factory. However, this idea quickly goes awry as GW pulls them off script and adds in a bit of time travel to take down dictator Hugo Chavez (not a big supporter of Bush, for those keeping score). The idea is hilarious and Zerneck and Tullock deliver perfectly consistent and spirited performances as the couple. But the joke just runs too long without any driving conflict to hang on.
The play continues after George and Laura's performance when they meet with an NBC executive, solidly played by Robert Mitchelo, about bringing their sitcom performances to the network. The Bushes are finally faced with some conflict as the executive breaks the news that he wants to insert former NBC star Matt LeBlanc (of Friends and Joey fame, of course), to anchor the show. John J. Isgro does a nice job as LeBlanc, but is faced with a tough job of playing a TV celebrity who doesn't have much of a public persona (unlike, say, Jerry Seinfeld); he does well to create his own character rather than just pulling a "Joey" impression.
Unfortunately, the drama of "LeBlanc's" entrance pulls the satirical comic element out of the script, which, up to this point, was its biggest strength. It's after this that the premise and the dialogue lose their way and begin to feel a bit stretched. Kevin Lambert does a commendable directing job, though, following this piece in every crazy direction it goes with abandon.
However, Gajewski's script does have its truly hilarious moments. It does its best when it sticks to Bush's known M.O. Every mention of Cheney is great, as are Bush's ignorance of the economy (not to mention many other matters), and his love for creating new words for the English language. But there just needs to be more of that type of humor in a short span of time for George And Laura Bush Perform...Our Favorite Sitcom Episodes to truly work. In the end, it left me longing to hear Peter Zerneck's George W. proclaim, just once, "Don't mess with Texas."