Interact's latest travels the campaign trail with humorous insight


Of all the Trumpisms raked over the coals in Interact Center's Hell Is Empty and ALL the Devils Are Here, one that's not mentioned is the Republican presidential front-runner's apparent mocking of a man with a disability. Maybe the show's creators decided calling that incident out would be redundant. The entire show is a rebuke, not just to the denigration of differently abled individuals, but to the divisive generalizations that have fueled much of this saddening campaign season.

Satire is the great equalizer, and writer/director Jeanne Calvit doesn't pull any punches with a large cast that — as is typical of Interact shows — includes numerous actors with disabilities. The production, taking its title from a line in The Tempest, opens with a song-and-dance number in which history's great dictators cavort in Hades. Donald Trump promises he'll be joining them soon enough, as two devils (Scotty Reynolds and Becca Flint) emerge from the flames for some Screwtape-style interventions in an increasingly hellish election year.

Trump (Aaron Gabriel, extremely orange) is at the business end of the majority of the barbs in this collection of comedy sketches, though the other three most prominent candidates also get some pokes. Ted Cruz (Ana Maria Koutsostamatis) is portrayed as a Bible-thumping fearmonger, and Bernie Sanders (a wild-haired Jeffrey Haas) glibly promises to fix all the world's problems with the help of his pals Ben and Jerry (Ian Dischinger and Richard Graham). Hillary Clinton is played by the priceless Shanan Custer, in a relatively subtle caricature of a candidate who's continually trying to figure out who voters want her to be.

None of this is exactly breaking new comedic ground, but — as Calvit points out in a program note — it's proving to be difficult for even the most outrageous satire to keep up with this year's bizarre political reality. It feels important for more voices to be heard, and particularly the voices of these artists, who relish in the opportunity to speak their truth to the powerful. Trump is repeatedly chased by clowns, yet another group of which he's afraid — in this case, maybe with good reason.

Among all the bizarre and memorable images in Hell Is Empty (brace yourself for Sarah Palin singing karaoke), it's the final moment that's the most poignant. As a devil romps across the stage, a quiet older man in overalls and angel's wings follows, silently, pushing a broom. All too often, when monstrous egos collide, the mess is left to others to clean up. It's gratifying to see this big, boisterous cast do a little messing around of their own.