Upon entering the theatre for 1980 (Or Why I'm Voting for John Anderson), I expected to see a political comedy in true ‘now more than ever fashion’ - one that would tackle current issues through a nostalgic lens, particularly the role of a third party candidate in a national election. Unfortunately, Patricia Cotter's play is more of a sitcom with a campaign office backdrop. Yes, the election is what brings the characters together, but the show’s focus is much more of a workplace comedy, one that checks off all the typical boxes: the lost new girl, a scandalous affair, and the wealthy shrew who may secretly be a better person than she lets on. Luckily, the energetic cast manages to foster some genuine comedic and touching moments, making this show an enjoyable if not original one.
Despite being 30 minutes too long and effortlessly predictable, the comedy does just enough to keep the audience amused throughout. Bryce Gangel, one of Chicago's most consistent young actors, is hilarious as the wealthy Robin. It's a shame that Cotter's script never truly allows Gangel to flex her more dramatic chops - the character's arc is stagnant from start to finish. More fully formed are Brenda (Evelyn Gaynor) and Will (Sheldon Brown). Their chemistry with each other and the others is palpable, and their shared moments are both stirring and funny. Kathleen (Hillary Horvath) is a by-the-numbers protagonist. Her work in the final moments is particularly lovely, and it would have been wonderful to see more variance in earlier scenes.
Jackalope's world premiere is certainly good, but one may expect more from a comedy set in a political climate during the most divisive time in modern history. Thanks to Kaiser Ahmed's brisk direction and a talented ensemble, 1980 (Or Why I'm Voting For John Anderson) is a harmless escape from the cold.
Review by Jason Berger
1980 (Or Why I'm Voting for John Anderson) continues through December 2 at Broadway Armory Park.
More info here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheatreinChicago's Review Round-Up.