Tweet review: #mnfringe Digital Hub binge day: "Super Patriots!" from @UNarrator; hilarious, one of the funniest things I've seen at Virtual #mnfringe; half popsicle stick political puppets, half live action; satire on proud tradition of US demagogues, McCarthy, Buchanan, etc. - 5 stars
Show description: Short absurdist plays about American leaders who loved their country so much that they unleashed reigns of terror upon it. Part 1, Senator Joseph McCarthy; part 2, President James Buchanan. (Adult language, Crude humor, Gun/Weapon usage, Violence) 25 minutes
Since our current politics are bleak enough, when I saw the subtitle of Super Patriots was "tragicomic stories from America's darkest timelines" I thought, "Do I really want to subject myself to that?" But the fact that it was two ten minute plays, one on Senator Joseph McCarthy in the early 1950s, the other on President James Buchanan in the late 1850s, made me think, I'm probably strong enough the deal with ten minutes of anything. Turns out they should have leaned harder on the comic part of tragi-comic in the publicity because, dark though the humor often was, I was laughing loudly throughout the half hour run time. Super Patriots is sort of like if Monty Python's Flying Circus taught American history. If you feel like laughing at politics for a change, Super Patriots is your Fringe show.
"If you do nothing, nothing can be your fault."
I'd need to do some further homework to determine just how historically accurate the two shorts written by Carl Danielson were. I'm making the assumption that the broad contours of what is depicted are largely correct, while some of the details have been distorted for comic effect. For instance, while I'm sure that Sen. McCarthy was not a fan of fellow Senator Margaret Chase Smith and her habit of standing up to his Red Scare tactics, I don't believe McCarthy ever physically attacked or disemboweled her. (Don't worry, she reappears later with a band-aid on, good as new.) And I'm pretty sure McCarthy wasn't a serial killer leaving literal dead bodies in his wake all over the floors of the Capitol building. The historical characters in the McCarthy short, Super Patriots, are nearly all voiced by unseen actors who manipulate paper cutouts of pictures of Hubert Humphrey (Brian Rust), Lyndon Johnson (Tim Hoover), Joseph McCarthy (Carl Danielson), and Margaret Chase Smith (Kitty Drexel) mounted on popsicle sticks. The one exception is Liz Salazar who plays the lawyer Joseph Welch, who finally took on McCarthy in his televised committee hearings looking into Communist infiltration of the U.S. Army ("Have you no sense of decency, sir?"). Actress and puppet engage in an ahistorical fistfight as well, through the magic of editing.
"You mean the War of Yankee Aggression?!"
"No, I don't. And shut the f**k up. I'M the editor of this play."
Throughout, Humphrey keeps pleading with Johnson that they have to do something, and Johnson keeps putting him off. "It'll burn itself out soon." Next scene, one year later. "He won't be around much longer." Next scene, two years after that. "This is the beginning of the end for Joe McCarthy." Next scene, one more year later. The Humphrey puppet implores Johnson, "Everyone's taking him seriously, but he's nothing but a dotty demagogue with terrible hair" (puppet aside to the audience) "You know who I'm talking about, right?" Both plays in Super Patriots aren't shy about winking at the audience about parallels to current events, which is another part of their absurdist charm. Lamenting over the corpse of one of McCarthy's victims that the janitors still haven't cleaned up, Humphrey steps over it and says, "Poor fellow. I suppose we'll never even know all their names. (Which of course made me think, US death toll from COVID-19, over 157,000, but that was yesterday.)
"It seemed like we spent all our time trying NOT to stop him."
The second short, Doughface, is a live-action Zoom format costume drama, with people appearing in boxes to great comic effect. President James Buchanan (Hoover again) tells the Northern abolitionists (Juliet Bowler) everything they want to hear, while still always managing to capitulate to anything the Southern slave-holding states (Emily Taradash) want. In trying to do as little as possible in order to stave off the Civil War, he just ends up making it happen anyway, leaving his successor Lincoln a real mess to clean up ("Yeah, poor f**k. I hope he makes it"). The civil servant (Jenny Gutbezahl) who Buchanan also leaves behind is not impressed.
"I'm going to miss the White House. So many memories. Dred Scott, Bleeding Kansas, and over there is the place where I was told that though I was the most corrupt president in history, it didn't rise to the level of an impeachable offense."
U.S. History with a Monty Python aesthetic. Hey, laughing beats crying, right?
5 stars - Very Highly Recommended
And here's a handy set of links to the other coverage of Virtual Fringe 2020: a rundown of 5 star show coverage, 4.5 star show coverage, 4 star show coverage, 2 and 3 star show coverage, and overviews of the lineups of each day's Nightly Fringe free online content