nytheatre.com review by Wendy Remington
August 11, 2006
In Vote McOwskey, you are put in the middle of an imaginary political rally for Eddie McOwskey, fictional candidate for Governor of New Jersey in 2009. McOwskey is running on a platform of protecting the state of New Jersey from alien attacks, outlawing marriage, "balancing your taxes," and basically undoing most of what present Governor Jon Corzine has going on.
As you enter the space, you are greeted by a campaign aid and the candidate's mother, as political ads and trivia about the candidate are projected onto a screen. The show proper opens with a speech from McOwskey highlighting his platform. From there follows a sing-a-long with former president Bill Clinton, and a series of endorsements from community members, in the form of spoken word poetry, performance art, and another series of films. The show continues a question-and-answer session, anchored by improv from the company but opened up to the audience at large, and ends with an allegorical performance piece where the candidate defeats the status quo.
About half of the time, the situation the company sets up is of a self-financed, highly eccentric candidate running on a bizarre platform, supported by paper signs, local cable access television, and a voter base of eclectic and outsider community members. And in those moments, Vote McOwskey's satire is clear and pointed. When creator-director Jeremiah Murphy and his collaborators embrace their actual situation (i.e., an independent theatre company performing in an exhibition hall) and use it to accentuate the show—highlighting the campaign platform on a series of computer printed sheets, or displaying a paper bag effigy satirizing Jon Corzine's policies, or the candidate walking out into a shower of confetti thrown by himself—the show is far more effective than when they rely on implausible and silly celebrity endorsements or try to imitate million-dollar national political party conventions.
The rest of the time, the show feels like an unfocused showcase for the various talents of a very agile cast. It is very clear that they had a wonderful time creating this very full world, making the campaign ads, buttons, and propaganda. And the scope of the show is daring and the cast truly put themselves out on a limb and at the mercy of the audience, and that is admirable.
However, the show attempts to take on so much, that it becomes unclear exactly what or who they are skewering. They make a very strong point of including characters who espouse a love of political rallies or protests, without particular concern for what in particular they are protesting, but this is never followed through. There are references to both New York City and New Jersey politics and lifestyles, so the ultimate focus on New Jersey is diffused. The reality of the world they present is neither our reality, nor consistently different enough to present an alternative reality. So although there are memorable and interesting moments, the piece finally feels like a series of pokes, instead of a sharpened satirical jab at anything in particular.