Who's Your Baghdaddy or How I Started the Iraq War

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Editorial Review

Capital Fringe Festival: ‘Who’s Your Baghdaddy? Or How I Started the Iraq War’

By Peter Marks
Monday, July 18, 2011

They say satire is what closes on Saturday night. It can also have trouble at the matinees.

Consider the Fringe sendup of Operation Iraqi Freedom, “Who’s Your Baghdaddy? Or How I Started the Iraq War.” As conceived by composer Marshall Pailet and lyricist A.D. Penedo, the 90-minute piece is meant to sink a shiv into what it views as the convoluted rationales for entangling the United States in a second Gulf War. The problem is, “Baghdaddy” is such a stylistic and narrative mishmash that the blade grows dull very fast. An encrypted memo might be easier to follow.

The musical, staged in Woolly Mammoth Theatre’s rehearsal space, takes place simultaneously in three separate years, 2001, 2002 and 2003. A German cop (Paul Scanlan) is interrogating an Iraqi, code-named Curveball (John Dellaporta), while a CIA analyst (Matthew G. Myers) pores over field reports as an ex-security official turned local news reporter (Harry A. Winter) uncovers evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Because these events aren’t contemporaneous, characters wear armbands designating the year in which their stories unfold.

It doesn’t help.

“Baghdaddy” incorporates, “Little Shop of Horrors”-style, a trio of arch singers (Emily Levey, Meredith Richard and Cyle Durkee) as a snarky Greek chorus. Durkee has some funny moments as the wiseacre cynic of the bunch, but the audience greets a lot of the show’s jokes with the sort of thudding silence that’s followed in a comedy club by the disheartening sound of a dish breaking in the kitchen.

The production hits all sorts of strange notes: The terrorist suspect is allotted an earnest ballad, and a secondary character at the agency bursts seemingly out of nowhere into a self-dramatizing power anthem. Spectators may be forgiven for thinking, “Who asked you?” The energy is there, but otherwise, it’s back in the filing cabinet for this one.