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“Don’t call him Gopher,” one Arena Stage official warns me before meeting former U.S. Representative and Love Boat Yeoman-Purser Fred Grandy. “He probably hates that.” I refrain. After all, Grandy’s lending his considerable thespian talents tonight to Arena Stage’s annual benefit for its Living Stage Theatre Company and Theater as Discovery youth education programs, which expose emotionally, physically, and economically disadvantaged D.C. youth to the performing arts. Capt. Stubing would be proud.
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This year’s benefit features an original script by local playwright Nick Olcott titled You’ve Gotta Have Heart!, which offers a perfect vehicle for D.C.’s pseudo-celebrities to ham it up. Olcott transports the audience to the year 2010, when Congress now resides in Des Moines, Starbucks has taken over the Smithsonian Castle, and D.C. is stillyes, stillangling for a professional baseball team to boost civic pride. “I’m afraid the stage might collapse under my girth,” Susan Stamberg confides to fellow NPR riot grrrls Nina Totenberg and Cokie Roberts as they practice an upstairs entrance during afternoon rehearsals. Mark Plotkin and Kojo Nnamdiwho are introduced in the show as co-hosts of D.C. Politics: What’s So Funny?fill out the fourth estate.
Olcott isn’t laughing at 6:30 p.m., though, when Plotkin foe Mayor Anthony A. Williams fails to make his curtain call. “If he doesn’t get here soon, we’re going to take over the city,” warns Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, as she takes a vicious cut with a baseball bat. “I don’t know if he’s aware of the process called a recall.”
As Olcott debates how to handle the mayor’s absence, the city’s congressional overseers take center stage to rehearse their predictable gag lines. With the federal government now in Des Moines, various members of Congress try out for Washington’s baseball team. “I throw a curve ball better than anyone in town,” Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) quips. “I don’t do anything straight.”
Robert’s Rules of Order go by the wayside when Rep. Connie Morella (R-Md.) flubs a line. “I came firstgive me my goddamn line here,” Frank tells Olcott. The playwright then reminds the delegation that, as novice actors, they might want to stick to reading the script. “Wait a minute, Nick,” says Frank. “First time with a script in front of an audience? What do you think we do for a living?”
With show time minutes away, Olcott takes a slash-and-burn approach to the mayor’s lines, much like the D.C. Council’s approach to the mayor’s agenda. Several pages get tossed, and Olcott comes up with a tidy conclusion: “At that point, Fred,” Olcott instructs Grandy, “crumple the mayor’s letter and say, ‘bean counter.’”Elissa Silverman