June 17, 2005
The egg-on-face awkwardness of newscasters with nothing to say is captured incisively in Gip Hoppe's "A New War," in which a pair of smilingly earnest anchors (Emily Kerns, David Shick) must report at length on a shadowy conflict against "an unnamed enemy in an undisclosed location," illustrating this non-story with a blank screen that might be the night sky over the "hot zone."
But dead TV airtime is about the only target this flimsy would-be satire of the new American triumphalism takes down, try as it might to skewer such soft targets as insipid celebrities, heartland wing nuts and creepily arrogant political figures. You can get an idea of Hoppe's rapier wit from his character names: Defense Secretary Mike Halliburton, Atty. Gen. John Bechtel, country star Billy Bob Braggart. Stop, you're killing me.
The cast gives strictly sketch-comedy performances under director Angela Pupello, with Simon Sorrells standing out in a variety of guises, from a squinting, malapropism-spouting president ("our precocious freedoms") to a crusty Defense secretary ("our young weapons are performing bravely").
Melinda Lively makes the most of her moments in several small, pert roles, while Joe Nieves makes a little too much of his.
There's not a lot to laugh about in Hoppe's near-future scenario: Gas prices have plummeted in the wake of multiple Bush-led wars, remote-controlled weapons make bloody house calls, the Constitution is summarily suspended. OK, the notion of a "Fatherland Security" chief (Sorrells again) giving dispatches in beret and trench coat is a lot more fun than Michael Chertoff. And the wigs throughout are hilariously bad. But "Stuff Happens" it ain't.
"A New War," Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Ends Aug. 3. $15. (323) 860-8868. Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.