The cast of Laugh Out Loud Theater’s ‘Trump in Space.’ (Photo: Tyler Core)
By Becky Sarwate
Love it or (more likely) loathe it: the Trump administration has gifted America with comedy gold. POTUS 45’s more hateful policies (such as a xenophobic immigration strategy infused with class warfare or fossil-fuel tilted deregulation) are no laughing matter. Though many are feeling the country less morally tolerable by the second, we’re often surprised by genuine if unintentional humor. It’s hard not to laugh at former Trump press secretary-turned-dance-competition-contestant Sean Spicer, or the linguistic presents we’ve received from our Commander-in-Chief’s illiterate tongue and keyboard – “covfefe,” “infantroopen” and so much more. So why is Trump in Space not funny?
Many, including myself, had high expectations for the limited run at Chicago’s Laugh Out Loud Theater. Lampooning this White House should be as easy as shooting fish in the proverbial barrel. The show is a product of the esteemed Second City Hollywood Studio Theater, where it has enjoyed a 23-month stint with rave reviews. In the hands of the original, founding Windy City chapter of the comedy powerhouse, I figured what has already been found quality can only improve.
As it turns out, that’s not true. It’s impossible to say with certainty, having not seen the California edition, what liberties the Chicago troupe took with the source material. As with any improv comedy piece, Trump in Space appears to have broadly drawn plot elements with plenty of room left for individual craftsmanship. What I can say with conviction is that with this group of performers, in this city and on this stage, the work is disappointingly bland and uninspired.
Directed by John Hildreth, the creative team behind this edition of Trump in Space has decided to let the music do the work. This choice necessitates letting well sung, but not entirely funny numbers stand in for off-the-cuff, satirical dialogue. While there is no doubt that musical director Phil Caldwell has a talent for matching the pop kitsch of yesterday with futuristic angst, that doesn’t make the results amusing. And when audiences come to a Second City-branded production in a space that has “Laugh Out Loud” in its very name, we have the right to expect guffaws. Instead, by prioritizing scripted musical narrative over free association, Trump in Space only reminds us that a bleak, dystopic American future is now.
The somewhat boundless plot outline is as follows: 399 years into the future, Earth has been destroyed by a combination of climate change and nuclear war (Ha! Impossible!). Warring bands of descendants from 2019 America’s political leaders continue their partisan squabbles in outer space. Audiences are introduced to Natasha Trump (Alaina Hoffman) and her grumpy band of Empire-like evildoers — Lieutenants Kushner and Graham, among others — the one percent looking for new planets to subjugate and deplete. Trump’s sworn enemies are the dressed in blue lib rebels, led by President Barry Sanders (Scott Cupper) and his associates, Warren and Pelosi, et al “snowflakes.”
Trump and Sanders are star-crossed lovers with a complicated past presented as a sendup of every romance ever, without any of the necessary sexual tension or teasing humor. Instead, there are Fleetwood Mac puns and power ballads.
Not all is lost. Audiences are treated to a solid, 1-2 combo performance from Rudy Voit and Caroline Nash as The Executive, an Emperor Palpatine-like character with solid one-liners and killer dance moves. Mr. Voit and Ms. Nash are almost worth the ticket price and I look forward to seeing their work in future Chicago productions.
Trump in Space runs a mere 60 minutes, in a cool space with an art deco bar imported from a Wisconsin Depression-era supper club. The show’s marketing campaign promises laughs at the expense of the least popular American president in the modern era. It should work, but it doesn’t. It’s somehow fitting that the biography of the production fails to live up to the hype — much like the real-world experience of its target.
Trump in Space
Laugh out Loud Comedy Club
3851 N Lincoln, Chicago
Through September 28
Becky Sarwate is an award-winning journalist, theater critic, blogger, and author of Cubsessions: Famous Fans of Chicago’s North Side Baseball Team (Eckhartz Press). She is a proud Chicago resident, where Becky lives with her husband Bob, their cats, Wendy and Lisa and their dog, RuPaul. Check out her collected work at BeckySarwate.com, and follow her on Twitter @BeckySarwate.