Why such a comical town as Washington doesn't have more home-grown satire is a perennial question, usually asked by people who've seen the few paltry offerings that have surfaced in nightclubs and small theaters. After Mark Russell, what is there? Well, the King's Jester Dinner Theatre has made its attempt to fill the vacuum, and a pretty bright effort it is.
"Feds" (an unfortunately banal title) is an old-fashioned satirical musical, flimsier than a musical comedy but with more of a story line than a revue. Tackling the Washington bureaucracy for material is a bit like going to Mount Everest for snow -- there's so much it can be overwhelming. But author Peyton Davis, herself a veteran of the Environmental Protection Agency, has honed in on a few familiar types and managed to produce some laughs.
There's the secretary (aptly named Rotunda) who does nothing but file her nails and throw away phone messages, and the young assistant, Rodney, whose move up the GS ladder has been accomplished more through connections (an uncle here, a cousin there) than by work at a job he despises. The opening chorus line displays an array of Washington faces: the Yuppie jogger in sweat suit and earrings, the hooker in hot-pants, the well-dressed middle-class black.
There are also a few characters who lapse from the familiar to the meaningless cliche': idiotic upholders of red tape, an indignant nun. And the central character of Dr. Barney Wiggins, whose office in the Big Business Administration is the focus of the evening's events, is neither funny nor pointed enough. Whether his flatness is a product of the author or the lackluster playing by Jerry Payne is hard to tell.
The story concerns two young people who come to the big city to serve their country with, respectively, her business degree and his law degree. Lo and behold, they find their time is not spent on real work, but on keeping their boss, Wiggins, out of trouble. The disaffected office staff is similarly employed in work avoidance and petty rivalries, except for Wiggins' administrative assisant, who of course does all the work.
They sing songs like "C.Y.A." and "F.T.S." and one particularly effective production number called the "Washington Post Gavotte," which lampoons a particular newspaper. Most of the music, by Mike Pendowski, is pedestrian, just skeletons to pin the lyrics on, and some of it should be terminated. The words are more interesting, although one song, an anti-hymn to "The Washington Male," was inaudible.
William V. Boyd Jr., who plays the upwardly mobile Rodney, is adept at singing and -- more amazingly on the theater's small stage -- dancing. He is probably the most proficient member of the cast, although Ida Elrod Eustis and Mary J. Goyette add excellent support. As the earnest lawyer, John Corcoran has a pleasant and resonant voice and a stiff stage presence; his counterpart, Nan Mullenneaux, has a bright personality and no voice. Rather, she has a voice, but it doesn't go anywhere. Between the two of them, they cope.
"FEDS," by Peyton Davis. Music by Mike Pendowski, lyrics by Frank Corrado. Directed by Norman Aronovic. Choreographed by Mary Jo Rotili, sets by Don Gardiner and Lee Mills, lights by Lori Willis. With William V. Boyd Jr., Sandy Burns, John Corcoran, Bruce Dworkin, Ida Elrod Eustis, Mary J. Goyette, Kelly Merrick, Nan Mullenneaux, Jerry Payne and Robert Redlinger.
At the King's Jester Dinner Theatre through February.