Entertainment » Jim Harris

Franken helps ease the pain Franken helps ease the pain


The small protest gathering outside the Arkansas Repertory Theatre on Monday night, before Al Franken’s benefit appearance, was rather pitiful looking. Dragging their children into the mess, the protestors held signs alleging that Juanita Brodericks’ allegations about a long-ago unwilling encounter with Bill Clinton was true. It never ends. I’ve had little empathy with Clinton haters of late, particularly after seeing the Bushites shove protestors of the current president off in the distance during his visits to Little Rock. Martha Burk got better treatment from Augusta National Golf Course than any Bush protestor receives. Oh well, Al Franken made it all better. He made light of the small group out front, wished he could visit with them, told a terrifically funny off-color joke he got from Buddy Hackett and, with the full house at the Rep still roaring, said, “I defy any of those protestors to laugh at that joke.” Laughter — what a wonderful healing mechanism. Many of us at the Rep on Monday night needed some healing after the past two weeks. Franken admitted the past fortnight had left him “heartsick” as well. I can’t recall any presidential election, even the Supreme Court’s election of Bush in 2000, sending me into such a depression — 180 degrees from the feeling I had that November 1992 night on Markham Street. In 1992, Franken was most famous for his skit writing on “Saturday Night Live” and his self-affirmation character “Stuart Smalley.” Today, he’s the liberal answer to all the conservative talk-radio bluster, countering the mean nonsense that issues from our protestors’ moral authorities, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly. “Air America,” gaining listeners in markets throughout the country, isn’t growing fast enough for us; why isn’t there a radio signal in this market to air Franken and other liberal voices? With a flashy lead-in by local comedienne/songstress Sharon Douglas, Franken kept a live audience and another in the Rep’s SecondStage area entertained for almost two hours, then stayed in the Rep’s lobby posing for pictures, signing books and programs and meeting well-wishers until the last guests were out the door. “Every defeat has seeds of victory,” he said, in one of the serious moments of his program. “We activated a lot of people during this campaign. We found a lot of small donors, thanks to Howard Dean and MoveOn.org … we can keep fighting for liberal values.” Franken called Bill and Hillary Clinton the two smartest people he knew. He appreciated the Rep’s invitation for its benefit to fund its Kaufman & Hart Prize for New American Comedy and to be here to celebrate “our last successful president.” Franken’s disdain for the Bushes, Fox News, O’Reilly, Limbaugh and others on the right is evidenced by his books, the latest being “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them.” Some of the audience apparently hadn’t read every word, since some of them asked about incidents — such as Franken meeting Barbara Bush and her eventual kiss-off — covered in the book. Along with jokes, Franken did dead-on impersonations of Dick Cheney, Limbaugh, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, the voice-over for negative campaign ads (“we should fear terrorist marriage … unlike gays, terrorists can breed,” he joked in a play off the ads). He did a pretty good Clinton, too, and regaled the crowd with a few stories of the president that rang true with FOBs. He’s had fun the past four years making light of Bush’s word blunders — calling the war in Iraq a “crusade,” saying the U.S. was bringing “infinite justice” to the Middle East, and creating the goofy term “evil doers.” He wowed many of us just in the way he was able to draw a map of the U.S. on the spot. “I have this thing about being lectured to on values, by Rush Limbaugh, Bill Bennett, Bill O’Reilly … by a sanctimonious, hypocritical jerk.” More laughs. Family “quality time” is another term he hates. Franken cherished the “quantity time” had had with his father. He learned “tolerance” from his parents and his religion, Judaism. Bush’s claimed mandate? “It’s for banning gay marriage, smearing John Kerry and fear,” he said. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” program is the most ironically named legislation since the Japanese-American Family Leave Act, Franken said. He noted the twisting of facts by such reporters as Brit Hume and “how shameless these people are.” “Intellectual sloth is immoral.” No one could accuse that of Clinton, he said. “President Clinton has a voracious mind. We had a good president in President Clinton.” And later, with a handshake and smile from a genuinely funny, intelligent guy, the pain of the past two weeks was gone. ? For the nostalgic types (me included), “The 1940s Radio Show” is a warming, pre-holiday present from the Community Theatre of Little Rock. Because the plot of the musical comedy centers around characters that aren’t top-of-the-line showbiz types trying to do a radio show on the fly in December 1942, “Radio Show” translates better to local amateur, volunteer theater than, say “A Chorus Line,” which would require outstanding acting, dancing and singing talent across the board. Not to say the acting, dancing or singing isn’t up to part in points of CTLR’s “Radio Show”; in fact, while there may be a miscast or two, several of the performers stand out and seem to have fun with their rolls: Sharon Cound as mousy flirt/singer; Georgette Sims, a good singer who shows off some nice gams a la Betty Grable; Felicia Richardson as a torch singer; Jon Hatton, who jumps into his part of a young taxi driver thrust onto the performing stage, and James Mitchener in the poor man’s Sinatra roll. Don’t let the first act, which has no songs outside the ones playing on the radio, put you off. The acting can’t quite keep up in the first 45 minutes. Things pick up when the ensemble gets to shake, move and swing. It’s not the Rep, but it’s a lot of fun. The play runs through this weekend, with a 2:30 p.m. Sunday matinee and 8 p.m. shows on Friday and Saturday at Woolly Auditorium on the Arkansas School for the Blind campus. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 students and seniors.

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