Lori Sitzabee wasn’t thinking about politics when she picked a spoof about a Senate investigation into an illegal gun deal in Hollywood.
The artistic director of New Surry Theatre in Blue Hill wasn’t thinking about impeachment either, even though the show she chose opened a few short weeks before former President Donald Trump is scheduled to be tried before the U.S. Senate.
Sitzabee was thinking about talking heads and looking for a play that could be performed live online using Zoom. Larry Gelbart’s “Mastergate,” a saga of how the IRS seized a movie studio for back taxes and the CIA used it to funnel guns to Central American guerrillas, fit the bill perfectly.
“Mastergate” is a funny and delightful show full of word play. Sitzabee deftly directs her cast of 18 actors, who perform from their homes in four states, including Maine. Behind each is a virtual background that looks like a U.S. Senate hearing room.
Gelbart, best known for his work on the television series “M*A*S*H,” wrote “Mastergate” after the Iran-Contra hearings in the spring and summer of 1987. It premiered on Broadway two years later and ran for 69 performances. The play was filmed for television in 1992 with an all-star cast, but the work is not well known.
Although the show was inspired by the joint Senate and House hearings, the members of the “Mastergate” committee actually appear to be caricatures of those involved in another set of high-profile congressional proceedings: the 1973 Senate Watergate hearings. Former Maine Sens. George Mitchell, a Democrat, and William Cohen, a Republican, who both served on the Iran-Contra committee aren’t spoofed in the play.
Two standout cast members are Erin McCormick as Gen. Manley Battle, who oversaw the guns to Central America from Hollywood operation, and Christopher Raymond as Sen. Abel Lamb, who gets caught up in the action but isn’t really sure how. Both project their characters’ personalities and foibles out of the Zoom room and onto a virtual stage.
McCormick’s straight-backed, tense military man and Raymond’s expressive but bumbling lawmaker make an odd couple intent on thwarting international law. Somehow, the actors manage to show how their symbiotic relationship worked through computer screens.
Sitzabee has added a virtual program at the end of the show that not only tells theatergoers about the actors but lets them know where the characters are today. It is clever and funny.
New Surry Theatre, like every other professional and community theater company, has had to pivot from live performances to presenting work online. Few community groups have done what Sitzabee has done over the last 10 months — brought six shows live through computer screens to an audience.
“Mastergate” may not be to every theatergoer’s liking, especially after the most recent political season, but it is a chance to laugh rather than cry at the outrageous actions of politicians. It also is as close to live, in-person theater as audiences can get right now.
“Mastergate” will be performed at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday via Zoom. For tickets, visit newsurrytheatre.org.