Not your mother’s spectacle

Political criticism and satire take center stage in “Ambush.”

Greg Corradini

Journalists, editorial cartoonists and comedians are some of the few who use levity to combat political sobriety. Then, there is the more rambunctious type of satirist. Beneath the sheepskin hide strong political aims and criticisms. These satirists aim to open the public’s eye to the horrific policies and posturing of U.S. politicians while also making us giggle.

Maxine Klein, OBIE award-winning political playwright, is at

it again. Klein, a former University theater professor in the 1960s, has been a part of the politically active scene for years.

“Political theater is no different from other theater in that they both have to be entertaining,” Klein said. “The only thing is that political theater makes sure that it entertains at the people’s benefit.”

The Unraveling Muses Studio production of her play “Ambush” slings mud in the face of President George W. Bush’s administration and criticizes the USA Patriot Act.

President Shrubbel (Jim Oestereich) doesn’t seem to trust anyone. He and his administrative henchmen have taken on various missions to subdue what they believe is terrorist activity. All the falafel stands in Iowa have been taken away. Greenland is being invaded just to make sure it does not harbor insurrectionary cells. And for all the Americans who still don’t seem to understand the parameters of freedom, free speech and political satire, each state has set up secret tribunals.

Many of the trial scenes alternate between funnier musical pieces and dramatic attempts to address the greater questions behind the violation of privacy.

The musical send-ups are a treat. A group of cabaret singers (Laura Lewis, Courtney Hudson, Felicia Taylor) give a “Shaft-like” rendition of Attorney General Beachcraft’s theme song “Bad Ass Beachcraft.” In their pleather skirts and fishnet stockings, they recount the numerous accomplishments by this illustrious American.

Similar musical scenes provide the audience with a good laugh while further bolstering the idea that censorship is, in the end, funny business. After all, political humor is essential to a democracy because it dissolves touchy subjects. So it is a little funny, in the scary sense, that a democratic government would find reasons to censor such things.

Yet, it is the judges’ (Stephen Peterson, Katherine Preble, Doris Marquit) speech that unbalances the play’s more ambitious satirical aim to take the audience to the next emotional step.

Klein, it seems, attempts to

reveal the absurdity and negative results of the current government’s terrorism-induced hysteria. In this way, she wants us not only to laugh but also fear what liberties are being exploited.

Yet, after every attempt is made by the accused to explain his or her situation, the judges reply with the same dry answers. Their platitudes about justice, terrorism and treason fall like lead upon the listeners’ ears. Judges might actually speak like this in the courthouse, but somewhere inside those corporeal shells, we know they are human.

All this can be frustrating when the audience really wants the mud-slinging to be at actual characters instead of stand-ins and mouthpieces.

In the end, the judges find the justice they uphold has a mean backlash. Surrounded by a group of hooded terrorist-looking types, they become the accused and are hauled off to trial.