Colm O'Reilly and Guy Massey
in The Strangerer
(© Kristin Basta)
Colm O'Reilly and Guy Massey
in The Strangerer
(© Kristin Basta)
Anyone wanting to see the funniest Monty Python sketch never actually written by that goony sextet is happily encouraged to take on Theater Oobleck's 95-minute piece of absurdity, The Strangerer, now at the Barrow Street Theatre. And the similarity in title to Albert Camus' seminally existential work isn't incidental in this dizzyingly funny political work.

The set-up -- and batten down the hatches for this one -- is meant to be a recreation of the first George W. Bush-John Kerry presidential debate, moderated by newscaster Jim Lehrer at the University of Miami Convocation Center on September 30, 2004. As this iconoclastic version of that event gets underway, Lehrer (Colm O'Reilly) repeats verbatim the debate's opening, but when he gets to his initial two-minute question for Kerry (Mickle Maher, also the play's scribe and set designer), Bush (Guy Massie) deviates from the transcript by stealing from his lectern and knifing Lehrer in the back.

After a black-out, during which sound designer Chris Schoen pipes in eerie music and wind effects, Lehrer is back at his desk, explaining the knifing was staged. From that moment on, the surreality continues apace as Bush makes two additional murder attempts on the increasingly disoriented Lehrer and Kerry takes to discussing his need to sleep through everything -- and then often does.

As Lehrer tries to moderate modulation along the merry and entirely illogical way, Bush admits to a love of theater he's kept secret for all these years. Meanwhile, Kerry concurs that he and the Commander-in-Chief are fresh from a performance of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Incidentally, Bush mispronounces the playwright's name as "Al-bee" and Kerry gets it right as "All-bee" -- one of the script's many allusions to Bush's malapropisms.

However, where the Pythons rarely stretched a comic turn past the point where the premise sustained it, Maher has occasionally padded his play so that there are some duller sketch stretches, with the resulting play feeling about 30 minutes too long. (No director is credited, as is the company's way.)

Fortunately, the actors bringing the work to titillating life are superb. Massey, who bears more than a slight resemblance to W, is a thorough compendium of Dubya's mannerisms. Maher, wearing a shock of Kerry hair that sure looks like a wig, does a fine job of conjuring the mixture of confidence and somnolence that the Senator radiated throughout his losing run, and O'Reilly is a stitch in a generally poker-faced performance through which he occasionally hits the familiar Lehrer cadences right on the button.