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Lab II – Atlas Performing Arts Center
Saturday, July 19th at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, July 20th at 4:45 p.m. Saturday, July 26th at 1:45 p.m.
They Say: Six 6th graders are running for class president and you will decide the winner! This sometimes-interactive, all-ages comedy allows the audience to examine the absurdities of modern day elections through the eyes of children.
Marshall’s Take: As I sat down to watch the second run of the Federal Theatre Project’s The Inaugural Election for President of Mrs. Jacobson’s Sixth Grade Class, I felt the overzealous air conditioning of the Atlas Performing Arts Center’s Lab II steal the summer heat from me. Cold, blue light fell on an American flag draped over a row of boxes roughly the size of a casket, as in a military funeral. Were it not for the swing set stored upstage, I would have thought I was in the wrong theater, as wrong a theater as I could find in Fringe. This is a kids’ show, right? When the cast came out and revealed that the dearly departed was the class hamster, I knew I was in for a fun evening.
The Federal Theatre Project takes its name from a New Deal project to put unemployed artists back to work creating live performances. That optimistic progressivism lives on in the modern group’s pledge to foster civic engagement, provide no-cost theatre to the underserved, and promote diversity. Fringe is The Inaugural Election‘s first stop before beginning a tour of free performances. It is not hard to like the Federal Theatre Project, and The Inaugural Election does not squander that goodwill.
Katrina Clark and Genevieve James, as students Katie andTifa, drive the first half. Tifa’s childish drama is a trivial squabble to us, but clearly of dire importance to her. Katie’s growing affection for Nicholas (Luke Cieslewicz) hits just the right balance of sweet-yet-cautious.
Meanwhile, Cieslewicz and Matthew Marcus pepper the production with moments of humor, many seemingly ad-libbed. The show’s high point comes when writer/director Kevin Finkelstein allows Marcus and Cieslewicz to freely roam the house, chatting up the audience for their votes.
However, too much of a good thing can spoil the appetite. Billy gets sidelined early on in the election, about time for the rest of the cast to have their moments in the spotlight. Instead, Billy gets a full musical number, the only thing like it in the show, in a scene where he fails to achieve his objective. For a company that hopes to promote diversity, the students rarely stray from schoolyard stereotypes. Time that could have been spent fleshing out the other students goes predominately towards the class clown. Isn’t that just like middle school, though?
The show tries multiple tactics to teach the audience about politics, and some are more successful than others. The best go to Billy, whose aggressive campaigning, scandal and teary-eyed apology are just the thing to bring ugly, realistic politics into the classroom. Coming from the opposite direction, the two literal social studies classes are hit and miss respectively.
As the second show produced by the Federal Theatre Project, The Inaugural Election isn’t perfect, but has plenty of heart and laughs. It will be a while before they catch up to their namesake, but this is a fine start.
See it if: You want to see your old school bully make a public apology in the style of John Edwards or Mark Sanford.
Skip it if: You couldn’t stand another minute of middle school social studies.