TheatreNOW is putting everyone in the St. Patrick’s Day spirit with their return comedy show, “Top o’ the Mornin’ to Ya! with Faith and Begorrah,” running through March 26. Locally written by Penny Kohut—who has done TheatreNOW’s Irish shows the past few spring seasons—the writer debuted “Top o’ the Mornin’ to Ya” last year and this time around is touting it “The Election Edition.”
Kohut is well-known for her stellar acting skills on local stages and her wit, which when in full form really soars. The idea to have “Top o’ the Mornin’ to Ya!” center on current American politics is rife with endless possibilities and impersonations coming to light. The show produces such; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It feel less like a fully fleshed-out script and more like a revue with a bunch of bits strung together—the only thread being our two cohosts who drink champagne and take minor jabs at each other and their guests (think NBC’s morning show with “Kathie Lee and Hoda,” only Irish).
Kohut plays Faith, the cohost who’s pretty randy for attention from any fella, no matter his questionable character (i.e. to Gov. Pat McCrory: “I hear he likes the Carolina Panthers … would he like an Irish cougar?”). I love Kohut’s nonchalance and aloof beguilement onstage, yet at times it also results in lack of energy that leads to miscues or jokes that just don’t pass (“Pat your own Crory!” she yelps to a luke warm response). However, her accent is always spot-on.
Heather Setzler plays Kohut’s partner in crime, Begorrah, and also is a powerhouse performer locally. Setzler nails it when switching roles to a returning Republican candidate Carly Fiorina. Pursed lips, forceful enunciation—she’s perfect. But her character, Begorrah, gets a little lost in the hubbub of the action onstage. Still she delivers one of the most memorable lines of the night when questioning “Mrs. Bill Hillary”: “Are you pleading the fifth or drinking it?” It’s an ongoing, often tired joke the cohosts come back to: the idea of being heavy drinkers sent to “Wilmington, NC USA America” to interview politicians they know nothing about. Perhaps that’s an interesting parallel to modern-day news outlets attempting to interview people on the party lines—and neither have a clue on how to really drive the issues.
It would have been more interesting to delve into the 2016 political season from a witty penetrating tone other than one that comes across rather cheesy. Don’t get me wrong: I agree, it’s better to be tipsy during most election seasons stateside as to simply deal with all the noise emanating from both political parties. Yet, when it comes to comedy and politics, the two usually pair well because the comedy writes itself. And in a year when Donald Trump is running against Hillary Clinton, the writing doesn’t even need to be forced. But in “Top of the Mornin’ to Ya,” it is forced.
Tired jokes about Monica Lewinsky, perfectly cast by Chandler Davis, run rampant here. Her constant inquiries to Hillary (played by Clare Kiley) are well-played, though really outdated. “Your husband says you’re a forgiving person…” she asks Hillary, only to hear in response, “For giving him a hard time!” The zingers don’t stop. Davis’ surprise return at the end is quite perfectly cast, too, and without giving it away, Kohut nails it for the next woman candidate for president.
Erik Schlichtmann plays Bernie Sanders with a questionable Brooklyn accent. His jokes get caught in the cross hairs of rapid-fire speech and mumbling over forgotten lines. Yet, Steve Kohut really nails it as Don Don. Duck face, bronze skin, forceful nimwitted speech—I mean, no one can help but laugh at Trump, even when he does threaten to raze Fort Fisher and build Fort Trump to put Wilmington on the map.
Kiley as Clinton lets loose best when playing Faith and Begorrah’s drinking games. For a split second, actually, I was curious about what it would be like to get snockered with Hil. Would we Riverdance? Kiley makes Clinton out to be a good sport, ringing in the funniest line of the night after confusing the cohosts on the idea of Republican and Democratic tickets. The hosts ask how much these “tickets” are and insist they’ll buy one. Kiley/Hil’s answer: “I’m not selling them!” I erupted in laughter over the thought of the Super PACs lining her pockets—and realized had the writing showcased more inherent absurdities and inferences, it wouldn’t crack under hokey pressure.
Irish songs are aplenty here—and show off Setzler’s insanely perfect vocals. Yet, they seem better suited as nursery school rhymes. Also they’re reused from “Charlie Murphy’s Fond Farewell,” which debuted at TheatreNOW two or three years ago. The audience “hand-dancing” through “Unicorn Song” just doesn’t naturally fit into a show centered on politics (though I can’t deny laughter ensues upon watching everyone attempt it).
What does come naturally: The use of multimedia to introduce our cohosts, as we see video of them arriving in Wilmington, stepping into their British taxi with champagne and going to every wrong theater in town before arriving at TheatreNOW. It sets the pace for the absentmindedness that easily represents everyone onstage. The use of funny photos and video feeds come in handy, especially with Zach Hanner as Gov. McCrory. He’s funny, but maybe too funny. Unsure if McCrory really has a sense of humor, unless it includes making a joke out of his own state, which he does daily.
Child actor Quinn Gonzalez as Marco Rubio gives a fitting video portrayal as someone better suited to fix lunchroom and playground quarrels than run for president. While TheatreNOW owner Alisa Harris makes an appearance as Adele, mocking the video “Hello,” it really is a reach in tying it back to the show. The audience didn’t seem to care; they laughed all the way through.
Though the show waxed and waned, Chef Denise Gordon’s three-course meal does not–ever. A split-pea soup warms the soul in its sweet, yet earthy flavors. An Irish Tea Party specialty drink comes with Irish whiskey, absinthe and Earl Grey tea. Though usually not served hot, my wonderful server made an exception. It tastes perfect with the split-pea soup in some odd turn of pairing. The pork stew contains succulent, comforting, stick-to-your ribs, unctious chunks of pork and sweet carrots and savory potatoes. The bread makes a perfect vessel to sop it all up.
The ending of the night takes a sweet bow with bites of carrot cake as the limericks, singalongs, interactive games, and drinking come to a halt. While it’s not the most refined comedy show, “Top of the Mornin’ to Ya!” will produce a few laughs.