‘You’re Welcome America: A Final Night with George W. Bush”
Those who can divorce themselves for 85 minutes from whatever feelings of rage and loathing they may have in regards to George W. Bush might find a chuckle or two in Will Ferrell’s scarily accurate impersonation of the past United States President. The talented Ferrell, whose comical bits and skits on Saturday Night Live expanded to major comedy film roles (“Elf,” “Blades of Glory,” “The Producers”), is once again collaborating with SNL writer Adam McKay (who directed Ferrell in “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby”). McKay is now serving as director of this extended piece of comical shtick about the man who can take credit for our country’s imploding economy, increasing unemployment, disintegrated international support and respect, the fostering of torture, ignoring human rights and devaluing a citizen’s right to privacy.
With that said, and acknowledging that Bush is a target as easy to hit as was Sarah Palin for that current SNL star Tina Fey, “You’re Welcome, America” creates an image of a likeable dunce, whose only flaw was that he was put in charge when he should have been put in a harness and muzzled. Actually, he was put in a harness in that famous if ludicrous photo op that was promoted to proclaim that major fighting in the Iraq war was over. Ferrell actually makes an impressive entrance descending out of the rafters in full harness into what he calls “the faggy theater district.”
That there is room to laugh even a little at the clueless, self-serving, misguided, egotistical, and monumentally inept borderline illiterate that Ferrell personifies is a commendable achievement. Sustaining the Texas drawl, the cowboy countenance, and the goony grin throughout a monologue that gives us a rundown of his life (“When wings take dream”), Ferrell forgoes most of Bush’s more famous hiccups in speech. Give Ferrell credit for avoiding most of the grimmer realities of a life ill-spent and giving Bush a faux autobiographical platform on which to define himself (no need to give examples) and share memories of family as well as his Yale days, including his membership in the secretive Skull and Bones Society.
Ferrell gets closer to the funny bone with Bush giving us a totally moronic explanation for his unexplained AWOL from the Air National Guard in 1972 to 1973. In fairness, Ferrell’s material avoids critical condemnation and mostly presents Bush with an air of affectionate condescension. Unfortunately, most of the fictional material in Ferrell’s showcase is rather thin and too often just ridiculous, particularly Bush’s awkwardly enthusiastic participation in a couple of atypical sexual adventures.
This is a Bush, however, who makes no bones about his executive deficiencies, lack of intellectual prowess, or his preparedness for the job of President. His stint as Texas governor is given short shrift as he moves on to his two terms as President where even his social and political blunders are cheerily admitted and tossed off as nothing more than oops. It’s impossible not to laugh at the pathetic way Bush responds to the botched job of FEMA-Katrina director “Brownie.” Because so many of Bush’s real-life quotes defy comprehension, a series of rear projections (by Lisa Cuscuna and Chris Cronin) displayed behind designer Eugene Lee’s patriotic setting keep us informed with the words “True” or “Actual Quote.”
Not quite as funny or as titillating as it should be is a Bush fantasy of himself with a hot and writhing Condolezza Rice (Pia Glenn), who slithers around him seductively in his oval office. Aside from Glenn’s terpsichorean maneuvers, there are the robotic moves of Patrick Ferrell (Will’s brother), as a Secret Service Operative, to keep our attention while Ferrell makes a few costume changes. You have to credit any comedian who can mine humor from such a shameful, disgraceful legacy. Ferrell goes to great lengths to present Bush simply as a fool who is in over his head rather than as a misguided, if idealistic, leader driven by principals and ethics. This apparently helps the audience to respond with appreciative laughter.
Near the end of the performance, Bush plays a game with the audience in which he gives nicknames to people after they shout out their profession. It’s a somewhat childish digression that works well enough as padding but packs little punch. Whether the larger audience that will see a telecast of the show over HBO will react as favorably as a live audience is questionable? Certainly Bush’s closing question: “Am I the worst president of all time?” is not going to inspire those in their easy chairs at home to respond quite as demonstrably as a live audience. A set-up has someone in the audience hurl a pair of shoes at Ferrell. Try that one at home.**
“You’re Welcome America: A Final Night with George W. Bush,” through Sunday, March 15, but may extend as the show is breaking box-office records at the Cort Theater, 138 West 48th Street. $116.50. 212-239-6200.