nytheatre.com review by Ross Chappell
August 10, 2008
Election years always usher in a wealth of political humor, satire, and parody. With voter turnout records being broken nationwide, especially among young voters, it's no wonder that college improv groups are putting in their two cents (often besting material which the talking heads are paid unseemly amounts of money to produce). Wacky Hijinks, "Rutgers University's oldest sketch comedy troupe," has given us America 20XX. Sadly, while "An Extreme Political Science Fiction" with an odd array of dimwitted superheroes trying desperately to save America from a megalomaniacal computer might sound, at the very least, creative, this sketch comedy gone awry simply doesn't have much to offer.
As a concept, the show is worthwhile. It simply doesn't go anywhere. There are plenty of interesting ideas, but they've been short-changed by converting them into the most painfully obvious jokes and scattered pop culture and political references. From the shirtless soldiers who deliver the exposition and then accidentally shoot each other, to the pelvic-thrust-filled musical number "Flex," to the clone of a bald eagle (a guy in a rubber eagle mask and boxer briefs, white feathers taped to his ankles) constantly scratching his scrotum and chirping "kwaw-kwaw," this show is filled with jokes that simply fall flat. Now I love South Park-style humor that seems juvenile on the surface, but it still has to be intelligent. I wasn't offended by a captured Paul Revere in a wrestling mask, tied up in a chair, gagged via the double-dildo in his mouth. I was just bored. Many of the gags sound funny in isolation, but put it all together, and it's just mush that fails the artists' sincere desire to make a statement about the direction of the country and the ongoing poisonous political climate.
The performances are energetic and well-intentioned but lackluster. One performer frequently caught himself looking at an audience member he clearly knew. Another found it difficult to keep a straight face from the time he walked on stage. On several occasions the actors held for laughter or applause that never came. It's not that I'd expect perfect polish here; sketch comedy is often at its best when it's raucous and a bit raw. The performances just felt so thrown together. In improv, actors can get away with some moments like that, but this is a scripted performance. While some of the performers had moments that were briefly engaging, the only standout moment was Dave Rothstadt's turn as a tarted-up, ideal-turned-whore, shouting pop-up ads for "Big penis!! Giant penis!! Everybody's got a giant penis except YOU!" and the email scammer special "I'm a Nigerian Prince!! And I want to give you a million dollars!!!" He was so wide-eyed and utterly invested in that moment that he had me howling with laughter.
Some of the shows I've loved most at FringeNYC over the years have been silly, rough, unfinished, or even foul, and humor is often the perfect way to address larger societal issues, but America 20XX isn't up to the task. While I applaud the goal of issuing a call to move beyond partisan politics, this show doesn't measure up to that lofty (and necessary) notion.