- The Washington Times - Friday, July 17, 2009

It’s official. It’s OK to make fun of President Obama. In fact, the members of Chicago-based Second City say it’s downright patriotic.

The storied improv troupe pokes holes in the puffed-up, deified image of the president in “Barack Stars,” a zany revue of zingers and blackout comedy Second City developed specifically for Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and D.C. denizens.

Obama (Sam Richardson, who has the president’s precise diction and elocution down pat) is portrayed as a superhero — “Fly Obama, fly!” his fans exhort — who takes himself ultraseriously and strives to come up with inspirational catchphrases that, in the words of one of his staff members, sound “hope-y.” His supporters sing his praises, noting that when he was elected “puppies rained down from the sky” and that Obama promises to turn Guantanamo Bay into a Six Flags theme park.

When not running the country, playing basketball or visiting foreign dignitaries, Obama conducts cozy chats with Lincoln (an amusingly laconic Tim Sniffen), with whom the president draws many parallels until the White House press corps points out some of Abe’s peccadilloes. After seeing this frequently bawdy sketch, you’ll never view Lincoln Logs quite the same way again.

The president is hardly the sole target of the troupe’s satire — plenty is aimed at his inner circle, most notably the pushy Rahm Emanuel (Seth Weitberg, ingenious and intense throughout). Described as “four feet of fury!” Emanuel is depicted as a diminutive puppet master barreling his way into every decision, from Sarah Palin’s resignation to Republican Party policy. Vice President Joe Biden’s tendency to flap his gums is skewered in the uproarious run-on patter song “Biden Time.”

Interestingly, Michelle Obama escapes Second City’s comedic wrath, which is a shame because the female members of the troupe are fantastically gifted. (Madame Tussauds provided the wax figure of the first lady on display in the lobby, where many people lined up for photos.) Brooke Bagnall does an entertainingly het-up Ann Coulter, while Abby McEnany and Lilly Allison portray a bevy of characters ranging from underpaid schoolteachers and chain-gang workers to CIA special operatives.

Stay for the encore, when Second City talents show off improv skills in a variation of charades using suggestions from the audience. Miss Bagnall and Mr. Weitberg had to guess the words “superfluous,” “encyclopedia” and “coagulate” mimed by their team members. Miss Bagnall nailed it, and the way they both spun the scenario into a political debate was a priceless end to an evening of bipartisan hilarity.

★★★½

WHAT: “Barack Stars,” by Second City

WHERE: Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, 641 D St. NW

WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 6 and 9 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through Aug. 2.

TICKETS: $40

PHONE: 202/393-3939

WEB SITE: www.woollymammoth.net

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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