Death in a Landslide wins laughs

By Eric Kelsey

The political satire, “Death in a Landslide” opened last week on the Macalester stage. Written by “Fahrenheit 9/11” producer Jay Martel, “Death” is a Faustian lampoon to the heart of American democracy more than it is a polemic hurled towards the current administration. Alumnus director, Jack Reuler ’75, writes in the program notes that the play “trumpets its liberal worldview through the back door.” Yet “Death’s” lampooning of Karl Rove, George and Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, pundits, interns, etc., doesn’t come across as anymore liberal than making fun of those at the top.

Jesse Dorst ’06 plays Cuff Riley, the dealing political strategist for the dimwitted President Thornton (David Jacobs ’07). Cuff finds himself entangled in a matrimony mess with First Lady, Nora Thornton (Jackie Baker ’09). Nora wants to end the affair because of the president’s reelection campaign. Clutching his weak heart, Cuff is summoned by Death.

As a surprise to the audience, Cuff has yet to sell his soul in American politics, offering Death the chance to run for president and personally manage his campaign in exchange for a little extra time to win Nora back. In a moment of human persuasion, Death takes Cuff’s offer and the plot is born.

Surprisingly apolitical, even if the director begs to differ, “Death” as a parody fails to produce the necessary undergirding irony to give it palpable depth. “Death” tries to work out sociopolitical problems in the face of oblivion while never becoming overly intellectual–but merely gives us the scaffolding without a floorplan.

If there is a criticism, it is not toward the acting or the directing. These are the strong suits binding each scene together when it has the potential to run amuck in its own confusion. What remains of the play are a series of images disconnected from the script.

At its heart, “Death” is a situational comedy brought to the stage. It’s funny, filled with puns and one-liners aimed more at comic relief than augmenting an underlying irony. The frenetic, Sesame-Street-and-MTV-gave-me-ADD pace, complete with the “revolving doors” of constant entering and exiting is wearing without an intermission, even if it displays the hyper-caffeinated world of a political campaign.

Go see the play, though. Not just to support campus arts but because it’s funny and its temporal nature assures that you’ll never get a chance to see it again.