As subjects for farce go, politics is so juicy it's almost overripe. How do you mine for laughs that which is already self-parodying? Well, if you're Josh Tobiessen or his new comedy, Election Day, the answer is "Pretty well, thank you." After a couple of scenes that struggle to establish characters and tone, Election Day settles into a blissful groove of mile-a-minute gags with a healthy laugh-out-loud quotient.
The polls are open in some nameless city, but while high-strung Brenda (Katharine Powell) obsesses over thwarting the mayoral ambitions of the glad-handing scion of a political dynasty (Lorenzo Pisoni), her everyman boyfriend, Adam (Adam Green), would rather focus on moving in with her. Adam's sister Cleo (Halley Feiffer) is no more politically engaged than he, but her desperation attracts an eco-terrorist (Michael Ray Escamilla) and a paper bag full of Molotov cocktails. As if mixing a mirthful martini, these elements are then shaken not stirred. Performances range from strained (Powell) to straining (Escamilla), from stellar (Green) to all-star (the delightful Pisoni and Feiffer).
It's a pleasant surprise, though, that as the plot grows more absurd, the writing and staging grow more inspired. Whether impressively integrating a chunk of bed frame into several slyly funny sequences, or sustaining an extended all-hands-on-deck comic climax, director Jeremy Dobrish displays crisp, clean timing. Meanwhile, Tobiessen manages to weave in enough in the way of romantic gestures — albeit of the deranged and deluded variety — that the entire affair has a giddy sweetness to it.
Perhaps most important, Election Day benefits from a circumstance crucial to success in both comedy and politics: Though far from perfect, it's better than the other guy. In these dog days of August, there's no funnier laugher Off-Broadway.
Presented by Second Stage Theatre
at the McGinn/Cazale Theatre, 2162 Broadway, NYC.
Aug. 1-25. Mon.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 and 8 p.m.
(212) 246-4422 or www.2st.com.
Casting by Tara Rubin Casting.