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Theater review: Outrage joins laughs in parody of the Bush years

As of Inauguration Day next January, comedians won't have George W. Bush to kick around anymore, so down at the Harbor City International School Theater, "Bushed" gets in some final licks against the outgoing president.

As of Inauguration Day next January, comedians won't have George W. Bush to kick around anymore, so down at the Harbor City International School Theater, "Bushed" gets in some final licks against the outgoing president.

The show's title in full is "Bushed: A Poetical, Political, Partly Musical Tragicomedy in Two Acts," with book and lyrics by Duluth's poet laureate, Barton Sutter, and original music and arrangements by Marya Hart. Throw in that this is an original Rubber Chicken Theater production and this talented cast, headed by Chris Nollet as Bush, is pretty much assured that they are reciting and singing to the choir.

Mixing poems with a baker's dozen of original songs and parodies, "Bushed" offers everything from lambasting lampoons and scathing satire to obscene outrage and passionate protest.

I wish "Bushed" was available as a CD, because like most people, my first-time hearing (or reading) a poem is always an awkward attempt to wrap my mind around its myriad levels of meaning. This explains why the more serious scenes were often followed by contemplative silence from the audience, as well as why the most readily accessible pieces, such as "The President's Prayer," garnered the most applause.

Musically the best-received pieces were the parodies, most notably Nollet's "My Defining Moments" (nee "Some Enchanted Evening"), where the audience was freed from regarding meter and meaning to anticipate sly lyrical punch lines. "Bushed" finds its optimistic voices in its spirituals, "Hold On" and "Wade in the Water," which offer the richest harmonies of the evening.

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Cheri Tesarek mixes a wickedly tart Dick Cheney with the caustic torch song "Thanks for the Anthrax." Richard Stevens channels Harpo Marx to deconstruct the tale of John Ashcroft and the bare-breasted statue. Periodically, director Brian Matuszak quotes words of wisdom by the Founding Fathers ironically juxtaposed with Bush's rhetorical bumbling.

Surprisingly, the person most eviscerated by Sutter's rhymes and reasons ends up being Barbara Bush (Susan Larson), but W's Pop (Taylor Martin-Romme) is not far behind. In the Bush administration only Colin Powell (John Munson) is seen as having a vestige of conscience and therefore any sense of shame. The only sympathy is shown for the plight of Laura Bush (Elizabeth Gregg), where love has cruelly trumped all other considerations.

Things turn darkest at the end of the show, when the torture of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib provides the proverbial last straw. Sutter's outrage is predicated on a profane Oval Office outburst by Bush in 2005 that reduced the Constitution to a "piece of paper." Ultimately, Sutter's poetry and lyrics attempt to explain the psychological sources of Bush's articulated contempt for the Constitution.

I see something of a disconnect in having George W. Bush being presented as the buffoon who was raised by dismissive parents, ushered into office by the political machinations of Karl Rove and manipulated by puppet master Dick Cheney, and then in the final analysis being castigated as the embodiment of all evil.

However, if Sutter sees the choice as being between believing Bush has acted malevolently or ineptly, then the rational impulse may well be toward the culpability of choice over the cruelty of chance. There is a reason "Bushed" is a tragicomedy; it wants anger and outrage on top of the laughs.

Most tellingly, the biggest applause of the night went to the "Citizen's Rant," a nonpartisan and eternally appropriate diatribe that will doubtlessly still be politically potent the day after the next inauguration.

LAWRANCE BERNABO is teaching analysis of public discourse at the University of Minnesota Duluth this fall and needed four presidential elections to vote for the same party twice.

What: "Bushed: A Poetical, Political, Partly Musical Tragicomedy in Two Acts" by Barton Sutter

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Where: Harbor City International School Theater, 332 W. Michigan St.

When: 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and Oct. 16-18.

Tickets: $20 for adults, $15 for students and seniors. Union members with a valid union card receive a $2 discount.

For information: 213-2780 or www.RubberChickenTheater.com

The review: There is no misunderestimating the poetic and lyrical wrath of "Bushed" as the Rubber Chicken Theater goes after the lame-duck president.

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