Will Durst has a fine comic face -- a kindly, lived-in pan that suggests a comfortable but slightly baggy suit. A San Francisco-based political humorist who has spent more than three decades puncturing the pretenses of the mighty, he carries on the Mort Sahl tradition of headline-driven satire with a distinctive brand of cheerful moral outrage. For a topical comedian, Durst has a rather cuddly stage persona (as opposed to the more prickly and confrontational Bill Maher), but beware: This shaggy dog can bite hard when he gets riled.
Whether lounging on an oversized armchair made of bundled newspapers (courtesy of production design consultant Peter Feuchtwanger) or delivering a scarily accurate facial impersonation of Pat Robertson, Durst clearly revels in his image as an equal-opportunity offender. Although he may chide liberals for their ineffectuality ("The reason the Democrats are so intent on passing a stem-cell bill is they're depending on the research to grow themselves a spine"), Durst directs most of his daggers at George W. and his various enablers. It's often very funny stuff, but with an edge of genuine sadness and anxiety at the state of our political culture.
Although there are no out-and-out clinkers, inevitably some zingers hit their marks better than others. Durst occasionally errs on the side of a tame, NPR-style liberalism when a more forthright lunge for the jugular might be in order -- but lunge he does in the show's closing moments, when he lets forth a potent stream of invective that reveals the deep current of anger coursing beneath his folksy faรงade. In a political climate that has witnessed the erosion of civil liberties and the normalization of torture, among other unspeakables, Will Durst remains an incisive and much-needed voice of protest.
Presented by Hanging Chad Productions, Jennifer Sachs, and Allen Spivak
at New World Stages, 340 W. 50th St., NYC.
Aug. 15-Oct. 14. Mon.-Wed., 8 p.m.; Fri. and Sat., 10 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.
(212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250 or www.telecharge.com.