Whistler in the Dark’s THE AFTER-DINNER JOKE (running through Nov. 24th) is a treat for Caryl Churchill fans. Her comic revue of sardonic skits and sketches (originally a teleplay from 1978) royally sends up our priggish notions about charity. Since Churchill is English, her most savage satire is aimed at the Brits. Witness one character’s convoluted logic on the subject of giving: If you don’t give to them (substitute India, Africa, any needy former colony), he reasons, they’ll be angry and come here to shoot you. “If you do give, they’ll be grateful and stay where they belong, wishing they were still part of the British Empire.”
Churchill utilizes a Monty Python-esque style of humor to hammer home the utter ridiculousness of accepted (especially in the U.S.) theories like “charitable economics,” wherein poor countries are given financial aid so they can turn around and spend it on American imports, thus increasing our GNP. Churchill has us laughing at the absurdity of big charity enterprises which spend millions on ad campaigns and operating costs. We’re amused by the comic exaggeration but it’s the resigned laughter of knowing, sadly, that this theater of the absurd is very real.
Marvelous gambits, like “Hoola hooping for the Hungry” or “Pacifist Kidnappers” give ample opportunity for director Meg Taintor’s talented cast to show off its versatility. The gender bending characterization has chameleon Lorna Nogueira as a greedy, elderly captain of industry and the hilarious Bob Mussett as a harried mom with a non-complying baby. Meredith Stypinski is wonderfully dense as the naïve fundraiser, while Melissa Barker natters on about snakes. Joseph D. Freeman has a nifty quick change from crackpot little old lady to Mission Impossible operative, not to mention his musical skills with several instruments.
Kelly Leigh David provides the delightful movies/projections, especially the “Pie a politician in the Face” bit and the old time silent movie (with Freeman delivering the requisite “tied to the train track” piano accompaniment and PJ Strachman supplying the fading light).