- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 22, 2004

Well-known politicians, journalists and businesspeople acted like shameless hams to win the honor of being named the biggest “connivers” in Washington at an Arena Stage benefit Monday night.A spoof of “Survivor,” “Fear Factor” and other popular reality TV shows, writer-director Nick Olcott’s humorous “Conniver ‘04: Legislative Lagoon” required each “tribe” to act, dance, sing and generally make fools of themselves to help raise $200,000 for theater education programs.

Few in the audience of 300 benefactors were expecting sexy campfire scenes or “a lot of hot babes and hunks showing up in their thongs.” After all, “this is Washington,” as E. Faye Butler, one of the play’s three professional actors, noted early on in the script. “When they say ‘hop into bed with someone,’” they’re talking about co-sponsoring a bill.”

The Polits (Sen. Jack Reed; Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton; D.C. Council members Sharon Ambrose and Linda Cropp; and Reps. Robert Mastsui, Chris Van Hollen and Jesse Jackson Jr.) were pitted against the Pundits (Gwen Ifill, Holly Morris and Kathleen Matthews) in a series of silly quests that included finding a D.C. cabdriver who knew the location of Arena Stage. Other hijinks featured entrepreneurs Mark Ein and Steve Weiswasser competing in frogmen flippers for the most no-bid government contracts; presidential sister-in-law Margaret Bush playing a veddy English lady of title having to choose between “millionaire bachelor ambassadors” Michael Thawley of Australia and Michael Kergin of Canada (both are married; “neither has a cent”); an appearance by “The Apprentice” contestant Sam Solovey; and a not-so-gung-ho group workout session with exercise guru Denise Austin.

The most insidious challenge: keeping Kitty Kelley from writing an unauthorized biography. (“Please, I’m Jesse — not Michael,” Mr. Jackson pleaded as cast members recoiled in horror.)

Much of the no-doubt hilarious “Dem Eye for the GOP Guy” segment had to be scrapped at the last minute because of the non-appearance of Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie (who reportedly pleaded a pressing family commitment).

“I guess I scared him off — but I didn’t scare off Mrs. Bush,” said Miss Kelley, whose next book, “The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty,” is due to hit the stands just before the election.

Kevin Chaffee

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