KPBS AIRDATE: August 14, 1996
If what goes on at a political convention is theater, why not have what goes on in a theater be a political convention? Besides, “the nation is panting for a major new governing party.” Or so the folks at the Fritz Theatre tell us. And so, we have FritzCON 96 (accent on the Con)– San Diego’s alternative convention.
This is no passive, sit-there-complacently theater event. You’re a delegate to this convention. You wear a badge, you may be given a voting, muckraking or deal-making role, you may even be your state’s potential nominee. First, you have to choose your state. I was in the great State of Mind. But there are also North and South Anxiety, Confusion, Bliss, Denial, Euphoria, Flux, Grace and others to choose from. Twelve in all; six delegates per state. Of course, if you want to just sit there complacently, you’re welcome to join the state of Apathy.
If you like to be an active participant, this is a great time for theater in San Diego. At the Globe, the audience acts like a madcap comedy is an old-time melodrama; catcalls galore at “The Compleat Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).” You’re a TV talk-show studio audience at the Rep’s “The Whole World is Watching,” clapping on command. But here, you make the show, which is only partly scripted. There’s a lot of riffing on audience comments; in fact, the more you say and do, the longer the show lasts.
I was there on a sort of slow night, and not enough people stepped up to debate the party platform planks, so the evening ended earlier than anticipated, under the usual two hours plus. But a good part of it was a load of fun. With the commotion and yelling and back-room bargaining, it felt like a real convention. The planks ranged from the reasonable (In Vitro Family Reform, which would require parents to obtain a permit in order to have a child) to the laughable (like D-Span, which would limit death row appeals to one, before a national voting TV audience, with televised executions immediately follow denials) to the frankly inane (Genetic Rights, which guarantees equal rights for genetically engineered human-like forms).
Unfortunately, Genetic Rights is a primary focus of the evening, with a Parthenogenic Hermaphrodite picketing outside and having sex with himself inside. This is where things start to unravel. Up till then, you really get a feel for the warped, mudslinging mania of a convention. But there isn’t enough satiric bite here; co-writers Todd Blakesley and Burnham Joiner haven’t really sunk their teeth into the process or the parties. And when the humor gets pubescent, the whole thing falls into the toilet.
But there are some inspired moments. The cockroach logo. The leopard-trimmed outfit on handicapper Jimmy the Fish. The back-peddling exercise for each of the evening’s potential candidates. The probing reporter Suzy Q. Rating. The smiling smarminess of the two pre-show primary winners. The cast, in fact, is uniformly good, and their ad-libs are often hilarious. Some of the audience members were very articulate, like bleeding-heart Laurie, who deservedly won the Fritz Party’s nomination the night I was there. And one woman, standing up to support D-Span, yelled, “Let ‘em live! If we let these guys off death row, where will we get our license plates?”
The voting process, a Las Vegas-style wagering system, is complex and ever-changing. My state never quite figured it out, so we lost all our votes, instead of winning ever more so we could swing the final nomination. But no matter. The object here is to have fun, which in a way is disappointing. I’d prefer more political humor in my political satire.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1996 Patté Productions Inc.