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Opinion: Upside, Downside of "Blagojevich, Blagojevich!"

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Upside, Downside of "Blagojevich! Blagojevich!"

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Last night, Your Ward Room Blogger went to see the play Blagojevich, Blagojevich! at the Athenaeum Theatre on Southport Avenue. Me, and five other people. To be fair, there was a Bears-Packers game on at the same time. Rod Blagojevich would not have missed that to go the theater. Not even to see Shakespeare.

Blagojevich, Blagojevich! takes place in Rod’s bedroom, on April 15, 2010. He’s just been booted from "Celebrity Apprentice" -- which, he insists, he would have won if Bret Michaels hadn’t suffered that sympathy-inducing stroke -- and he’s about to go on trial for selling Barack Obama’s Senate seat. But it’s a hopeful day, because Blago believes Rahm Emanuel will vindicate him, by revealing that he was planning to appoint Lisa Madigan to the Senate. As he awaits the call from Rahm, Blagojevich is visited by his two idols, Elvis Presley and Richard M. Nixon (both played by Eric Roach), who give him lessons on, respectively, winning the public’s love and getting revenge on the press.

Let me say that Darren Stephens is the best Rod Blagojevich impersonator I’ve ever seen. He’s certainly better than Saturday Night Live’s Jason Sudeikis, who attempted to mimic Blago with a grating Chicago accent that sounded nothing like the ex-governor. Not only does Stephens have Blago’s breathless voice down, he captures the man’s vanity, egocentrism, insecurity and self-pity. At the beginning of the play, Blagojevich rages that on Inauguration Day, Obama was standing “on Mount Olympus,” while he was being fingerprinted in a federal court. If only he hadn’t been stupid enough to run for governor, “I’d be sittin’ in the White House with my feet up.” It’s a hammy performance, but there’s no other way to play Blago, who hammed his way through six years in the governor’s mansion. By the end, this Blago reminded me of William H. Macy's car salesman in Fargo -- a hapless, not-too-bright little man who'd gotten himself into a situation he couldn't control.

Unfortunately, even a great Rod Blagojevich impersonation is only entertaining for the length of an SNL skit. Blagojevich, Blagojevich! lasts 90 minutes. That’s a long time to listen to Rod Blagojevich rant, as FBI agents and federal court jurors can tell you. The plot never really pays off, either. Blago tries to get Rahm on the phone at the White House -- the switchboard operator makes him prove his identity by saying “I’ve got this thing, and it’s f---in’ golden, and I’m not going to give it away for f---in’ nothing.” But Rahm never calls back. It could be that Rahm’s support was another of Blagojevich’s delusions, like the appearances of Elvis and Nixon -- or the idea that he could have been president.    

Blagojevich! Blagojevich! is playing through Sept. 22 at the Athenaeum Theatre. Click here for more information.
 

 This month, Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland’s Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President will be available on Kindle for $1.99. Tracing Obama’s career in Chicago from his arrival as a community organizer to his election to the U.S. Senate, Young Mr. Obama tells the story of how a callow, presumptuous young man became a master politician, and of why only Chicago could have produced our first black president.

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