2015 Capital Fringe Review: ‘Up For Debate’

Any show starting with a handsome actor wearing a gold lame vest while singing (in excellent baritone) an anthem to the state of Idaho cannot be accused of taking itself too seriously. Luke Mullan, writer and director of the Capital Fringe’s Up for Debate keeps up the raucous irreverent tone all throughout, making for a delightful and wholly recommended start of the festival.


Looking back, this reviewer confesses to one misgiving before any of the cast stepped on stage, or cracked wise from the seats (the show employs some audience plants.) There was a large photograph of Josef Stalin in full sight. Could this portend seriousness or political wear and tear?

Luckily, not a chance. The show, a “surrealist romp,” as Mullan calls it, operates on a simple premise: a political debate between three candidates running for high office in the state of Idaho. There is an extreme right winger, blue suited and thatch coiffed to a fare thee well; a libertarian (carelessly dressed and resembling a healthier happier Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and an unreconstructed Russian Marxist named Ivan Chekovitch and his younger counterpart, both smarting–hilariously–from the fall of the Soviet Union.

The show succeeds in playing the inevitable clashes for laughs as all candidates and their peanut gallery hecklers in the seats, go further than any politician would dare: the occasional expletive; the libertarian not knowing what Social Security does; the conservative crying “drones, baby, drones!” With expert comic timing, the debaters take pauses not for water sips but Pepsi Max breaks, brandishing beverage containers in proud product placements.

There are no elaborate sets or props, but the simple ones used, such as rotary phones employed in the Nineties flashbacks, contribute to the comedy. The clothes fit the personalities entirely. The cast members breaking into song when least expected, contributes to the buoyancy. And who chose some of the music played such as Styx? There’s hope for the young after all.

Running Time: 45 fast-paced minutes.

Featuring Philip Kiley, Joseph Cooney, John Leach, Jack Cashmere, Joe Clancy, Michael Pullano, Reno Carliti, Andrew Schoenewolf, and Will Ervin.

Up for Debate plays through July 23, 2015 at Atlas Performing Arts Center Lab 2 – 1333 H Street NE, in Washington DC. For performance times and to purchase tickets, visit their Capital Fringe page.

Recommended for ages 13 and up.



  1. Marc gives this 1.5 stars; Amy gives it 1 star. Neither of us liked this high-school level production. Humor wasn’t funny, acting was weak, dialogue was annoying. Just looked like a bunch of high school boys putting on a play that no teacher had actually reviewed in advance..

    Who we are: late 40’s suburban couple, frequent dc theater-goers, first time fringe-goers.
    Expectations: at least one of (quirky, maybe a little uneven, thought-provoking)
    Our rating system: 5 stars: must see; 4 stars: recommended; 3 stars: take it or leave it; 2 stars: only if you have nothing better to do that night; 1 star: stay home and watch netflix instead


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here