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Theater review: ‘Early and Often’ at Open Fist Theatre

April 12, 2012 |  3:00 pm

"Early and Often" at Open Fist Theatre
The mob murder of a crooked state assemblyman poses a daunting though not insurmountable challenge to his reelection prospects in the West Coast premiere of “Early and Often” at the Open Fist Theatre.

Named after the notorious adage about voting in their Chicago hometown, Barbara Wallace and Thomas R. Wolfe’s retro political satire is set on the day of the 1960 presidential election. The sharp-edged black comedy is strictly local, however, as party operatives try to cover up the death of their hack assemblyman until he’s officially won his seat. Sporting an ensemble nearly as populous as the Windy City itself, this who’s-got-the-body caper entails complicity among the corrupt factions that comprise the city’s political landscape — elected officials, cops, reporters and even priests.

If there’s a “hero” to be found in this cesspool, it’s conflicted precinct captain Art Ruck (skillfully played by Bryan Bertone). To say that Art is facing a crisis of conscience would be far too romanticized — it’s more a question of where his loyalties lie after his sleazy Ward boss (Bjørn Johnson) refuses to adequately reward his efforts. Jessica Noboa, Catherine Urbanek and Amanda Weier effectively illuminate the frustrated powerlessness of women amid the boy’s club mentality of the era.

Director Ron West plays the comedy very broadly, sacrificing some nuance and darker edges in a style reminiscent of an old Howard Hawks screwball comedy — a choice that would benefit from even more manic pacing and delivery.

It’s unclear how many of the period jokes and references will register with viewers not steeped in the legacy of former Mayor Richard J. Daley’s political machine, but the intricately plotted shenanigans tap a cynicism that never goes out of style. With inanimate corporations now enjoying the same rights as people, the idea of running a dead guy for office doesn’t seem all that far-fetched.

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Early and Often,” Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 26. $25. (323) 882-6912 or www.openfist.org. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.

Photo: John D. LeMay, Bryan Bertone, Bjørn Johnson and Ehrin Marlow. Credit: Maia Rosenfeld.

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