The harmonious commingling of oats, nuts, chocolate and other ingredients vaulted Laura Bush’s cookie recipes to victory over Tipper Gore’s ginger snaps and Teresa Heinz Kerry’s pumpkin spice cookies in the Family Circle Presidential Cookie Polls of 2000 and 2004. Constituent elements don’t fuse quite so successfully in “Laura Bush Killed a Guy,” a new fact-and-fiction-embracing play mounted by the Klunch. While some portions of this one-woman show register as delectably wicked satire, other parts are more naturalistic and wistful in tone, making for a concoction that’s less choice pastry than uneasy stew.
Written by Ian Allen and directed by John Vreeke, the play shows off the blazing presence and comic flair of Lisa Hodsoll, who portrays a reminiscing former first lady. Dressed in a white suit, hands often demurely folded, she talks directly to the audience, shooting periodic loving glances at a photo of George W. on the wall. She radiates steely, self-satisfied graciousness — except when she reveals a subversive streak.
Subversiveness colors an early sequence that relates to the play’s title. In real life, as a 17-year-old, the future Mrs. Bush was involved in a car crash that resulted in a friend’s death. In the play, she recalls this incident in three contradictory ways, initially casting the incident as a carefully planned assassination. The sheer incongruity of the image — the well-bred Laura Bush as hit man! — makes it anarchically funny. Comparable humor surfaces elsewhere, including in a genteel discussion of crude nicknames used in Bush circles.
But at other points — when the character relives Sept. 11, 2001; or when she’s bemused about ranking lower than other first ladies in a survey — she’s a more realistic and vulnerable figure, and you feel for her. The play obviously intends to disorient audiences and blur the line between fact and fiction, but it doesn’t accomplish these goals in a revelatory manner. Still, Hodsoll’s performance is to relish.
The protagonist of “Laura Bush Killed a Guy” isn’t the only sympathetic-and-monstrous female historical figure onstage these day. At MetroStage, Ilona Dulaski is channeling a temperamental Maria Callas in Terrence McNally’s “Master Class,” directed by Nick Olcott. Dressed in black, with pearls and thick eyeliner, this version of the celebrity opera singer frets, fumes and showboats in hugely diverting fashion.
In other roles, the production’s music director, Joseph Walsh, has created a droll cheery-pianist character to interact onstage with Callas, while Michael Sharp is priceless as a glowering stagehand. Depicting Callas’s hapless pupils, Emily Honzel, Ayana Reed and Daniel Noone are a little stiff, but their arias sound great.
Contradicting herself, waxing rude and charming, widening her eyes in horror at her students’ errors, Dulaski’s prima donna is a derecho windstorm of a VIP. But now and then, when she fleetingly dodders, or loses her train of thought, she becomes a poignant figure. Even divas let their guard down sometimes.
Laura Bush Killed a Guy by Ian Allen. Directed by John Vreeke; set design, Kim Deane; lights and projections, David C. Ghatan; costume, Rhonda Key; sound, Lucas Zarwell. About 85 minutes. Through June 4 at Caos on F, 923 F St NW. Tickets $25-$35. Call 866-811-4111 or visit theklunch.com.
Master Class by Terrence McNally. Directed by Nick Olcott; set design, Rhe’a Roland; lights, Alexander Keen; costumes, Jingwei Dai; sound/projections, Gordon Nimmo-Smith. About two hours. Through June 11 at MetroStage, 1201 N. Royal St., Alexandria. Tickets $55-$60. Call 703-548-9044 or visit metrostage.org.