Arts Desk

For Politicians, Reciting the Bard is Hard

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Ever looked at your local lawmaker and thought: I know how well he governs, but can he act? No? To sate your boundless curiosity,  you'll be shocked to learn that the answer is: Very poorly. If you don't want to take the City Paper's word for it, the annual "Will on the Hill" event at the Shakespeare Theatre last night provided proof, bringing together 24 Washington personalities, from senators to representatives to journalists, for a performance about as nuanced as a fourth grade class play.

Two actual thespians, Peter Jacobson of House and local actress Holly Twyford, were enlisted to leadof this dramatic brigade along with director David Muse. The trio led the politicians in a work written specifically for the occasion by playwright Peter Byrne, who composed a tale of a depressed and unpopular president (played by Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.) on the eve of his State of the Union address, who has fallen into fits of quoting only Shakespeare. "Full of scorpions is my mind," he cries out in anxiety, just as Macbeth did. To bring him out of it, his aides (Jacobson and Twyford) organize his staff into a tableau of the issues he needs to address in his speech, but told with a Shakespearean twist, in a sort of hair-of-the-dog-that-bit-you remedy for his delusion.

So who was self-deprecating enough to get on stage in a robe and funny hat? Some of the major players included Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), NPR's Nina Totenberg, Fox News' Major Garrett, and CNN's Jessica Yellin.

Of course, no member of this cast takes his or herself seriously. The self-referential digs were bipartisan, making fun of Michael Steele, Wall Street, Amtrak, environmentalism and Twitter. Dr. Natwar Gandhi, the CFO of the District of Columbia, was the first to flub his lines despite having the playbook in front of him. He was closely followed by Rep. Shelly Berkley (D-Nev.), who, for her role as the Secretary of Agriculture, wore a necklace made of an ear of corn. The award for best actor goes to Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) for his role based on Vice President Joe Biden, and his deadpan delivery as he impersonated the gaffe machine: His first line was, "I really don't want to do this."

The entire purpose of "Will on the Hill" is to raise money for the Shakespeare Theatre's educational programs, and it's been a tradition for local high school students to warm up the crowd with their own Shakespearean scenes and monologues. Each year, they outshine the politicians, and this year's selection from As You Like It by the students of Charles Flowers High School in P.G. County was no different. But it felt much more like a school play when the politicians hit the stage—like a mother, you just wanted to pat their head, congratulate them for their effort, and take pictures of them wearing such adorable costumes on stage.

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