Oh, that hair. I couldn’t stop staring at that gravity-defying comb-over. Props to the wig designer because the actor’s hair was freakishly similar to Blago’s infamous style. It captivated me for the entire 90 minutes of Blagojevich, Blagojevich, a comedy about former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich currently playing at the Athenaeum Room.
However, the comedic elements of the play didn’t quite measure up to the hair. Most of the jokes were comparing his coif to Donald Trump’s, repeating his famous “free rides for grandma [on the CTA]” and “I’ve got this thing and it’s f**king golden.” All jokes are the same ones from Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show and other similar comedy show episodes three years ago, when he was impeached in 2009.
What the play did do well was humanize Blagojevich. The entire show takes place during the course of one day in Blagojevich’s bedroom, watching him try and sort through how to prove his innocence on the charges of trying to sell President Barack Obama’s former senate seat. For most of the play, Blago is wearing only a t-shirt and boxers, a clever way to build a connection between an audience and an utterly unlikeable character: making him vulnerable by presenting him in his underwear.
The play frames Blagojevich as a typical guy. He’s nagged by his wife and wants to move up in his career—oh, yeah he tried to do so through a series of illegal moves. The play tries to spin the charges as a misunderstanding: he was being framed and the statements used against him were taken out of context.
At times you almost feel bad for Blago. He insists he wasn’t going to sell President Obama’s senate seat, but none of his friends and former colleagues will help him prove his case. The play shows how one lie snowballs, symbolizing how Blago’s entire political career spiraled out of control.
He starts by lying to a journalist about how Rahm Emanuel would release a statement confirming his innocence, which leads to him telling his wife the same lie, which leads to her telling all the press. In the end Emanuel doesn’t release any statement, and (spoiler alert… just kidding, this happened over a year ago) Blagojevich was found guilty.
The play almost makes you feel bad for poor Blago, but that quickly fades when you’re reminded he’s a foul-mouthed corrupt politician. In one section, which I was personally offended by, he uses some less-than-respectful adjectives to describe a female journalist.
I understand the playwright was trying to make the point that Blago wasn’t a very politically correct or respectful guy, but there are other creative ways to get your point across without being degrading. Personally, I’m not into explicit language as comedy. There are more clever and smarter ways to get laughs than saying “f**k” every other word.
Overall, the actors did a “golden” job. Eric Roach did an excellent job playing Elvis and Richard Nixon during one of Blagojevich’s insinuated Ambien-induced hallucinations. His impersonations of each character were spot on and hilarious. Darren Stephens, who plays Blagojevich, also did an impressive job. He is on stage for the entire play and for a large portion he was only engaging in monologues directed at the audience, a difficult task. A Loyola graduate, George Manisco, also played two small roles, though he didn’t have much stage time.
On another positive note, I loved the theatre where Blagojevich, Blagojevich was playing, the Athenaeum Room. There is a large main stage and three small studio theatre rooms (Blagojevich, Blagojevich was in one of them), which created a personal atmosphere for the play. The theatre originally opened in 1911 and is being renovated and restored. It’s definitely a beautiful theatre to check out, but maybe try a different play.
The student price of the play is $20; $18 for the ticket and $2 toward theatre renovations. Blagojevich, Blagojevich is running Thursdays through Fridays until Sept. 22.
Verdict: Should have come out three years ago when Blagojevich was still in the news.