"Girl's Guide" at Woolly: Sex and the Satire

Second City's "A Girl's Guide to Washington Politics," with, from left, Lori McClain, Rebecca Sohn and Lilli-Anne Br own, opens at Woolly Mammoth Theatre on Wednesday.
Second City's "A Girl's Guide to Washington Politics," with, from left, Lori McClain, Rebecca Sohn and Lilli-Anne Br own, opens at Woolly Mammoth Theatre on Wednesday.
By Lavanya Ramanathan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 2, 2010; 10:49 AM

When famed Chicago comedy troupe Second City brought "Barack Stars" to Washington's politically wired audiences last year, timing was everything; night after night, the seats at Woolly Mammoth Theatre filled with the Who's Who of Washington, all game for a laugh at themselves and Obamamania. (Even former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, thoroughly lampooned in the show, stopped by to see it.)

Next week, Second City returns to Woolly with its cross hairs aimed squarely at this year's hot subject: the first ladies of politics, from Sarah Palin to Nancy Pelosi (and perhaps even Christine O'Donnell). All get a skewering in "A Girl's Guide to Washington Politics," which opens Wednesday.

"We started developing it before the midterm elections," writer Kate James says, by phone from Chicago. And to keep it as timely as possible, James says, they'll keep tweaking almost till the moment the actors hit the stage.

"With a Washington audience, you can't get away without playing to the top of your intelligence," adds Kelly Leonard, president of Second City, which has been the training ground for some of comedy's most revered talents, including John Belushi and Tina Fey. "We all want to deliver a smart laugh."

To do that, the writers hinged the show's 16 sketches, performed by a cast of five women and one man, not just on candidates and elections, but on the city's sexual politics - and sexual proclivities. The show's running joke is "a talking-head type" inspired by such personalities as Suze Orman, Ann Coulter and TV matchmaker Patti Stanger. (The character, James says, "has this really super strong point of view, and we're not really sure why.") Audiences can expect to see a tea party rally, and Leonard and James cautiously reveal, one sketch in which three wives whose husbands have affairs belt out a tune about the woes of being a Washington wife. (Why do we feel a rendition of "All the Single Ladies" coming on?)

While "tea party material in Chicago generally is laughed at," says Leonard, in other cities, it doesn't always go over so well. "Someone threw a piece of fruit and stormed out of the theater," he says.

In Washington, however, the company doesn't have to worry about episodes like that. It's "an audience that's used to material that's both on the left and the right," Leonard says. "We're kind of playing to a home team in Washington even though it's an away game."

A Girl's Guide to Washington Politics Wednesday through Jan. 9 at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, 641 D St. NW. 202-393-3939 or www.woollymammoth.net. $30-$75; a pay-what-you-can night is Wednesday.


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