Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Grateful Nation Says Thanks

You’re Welcome, America
Written and performed by Will Ferrell
Directed by Adam McKay

Cort Theatre, 131 West 48th Street
Performances from January 20 to March 15, 2009

Ferrell in
You're Welcome, America
(photo: Robert J. Saferstein
Will Ferrell’s amiable amble through the disastrous Bush presidency, You’re Welcome, America. A Final Night with George W. Bush, is not unlike a typical Saturday Night Live sketch: a promising premise and hilarious bits, but no finish. Of course, since this one-man show runs about 80 minutes, there are many dry stretches. But Ferrell gets by on his thoroughly ingratiating impersonation of the former president, which winkingly informs the jokes about what this administration did to our country.

Arriving onstage from the heavens, Mary Poppins-like, as if being dropped from a helicopter, Bush feigns surprise that he’s in “the faggy theater district,” as he calls it, then is off and riffing. Beginning with feeble jokes about Rent and Cats, he moves quickly to the matter at hand, taking shots at President Obama (“the Tiger Woods guy”), the New York Times (which he describes with words deemed unfit to print in that paper), and torture (“I like waterboarding—I find it relaxing”). There’s a quip for everything, some on-target, some not.

Ferrell’s Bush is the eternal goof-off, a basically likeable dope who happened to become president. That conceit is the starting point for some long-winded and not particularly pointed or humorous tall tales about the “Bushmen” (who were stuck in an abandoned mine shaft in Texas, and it was up to muscular mother Barbara to rescue them) and Dick Cheney (whom Dubya stumbles upon in the White House basement being rammed from behind by a demon amid pentagrams—“I got the hell out of there,” he says). After another rambling digression about his cabinet, he bemoans not seeing Condoleezza Rice any more—and a sexy young Condi lookalike in a short red outfit comes out for a steamy dance routine that leaves Dubya sweating and speechless (he calls her, “my San Francisco treat” and “my Rice-a-roni”).

If you love Ferrell (or hate Bush), then this seeing You’re Welcome, America is a no-brainer; but he too infrequently hits on any lasting comic images of the colossal screw-up that Bush—and by extension, the entire country—became. While speaking on the phone with crony Michael “Brownie” Brown about Hurricane Katrina, the ex-prez nails Americans’ short attention spans: “It’s great that you can half-ass this shit and it doesn’t matter.” That well-observed line is both funny and depressing, since it hits so close to home.

At the end of the show, Ferrell (in character) gives Bush-like nicknames to audience members: to he christens a teenager “pimple face” and calls a stock analyst “shit out of luck.” After a perfectly-timed pause, he follows with: “But it wasn’t my fault!” At moments like these, You’re Welcome, America starts to become a needed comic corrective to the last eight lean years. But most of the time, it contents itself with merely being a fun ride.

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