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.