A laughing matter: Comedy has fun with politics in Theatre B's new show

MOORHEAD -- Daniel Damico sat perched on the back seat of a top-down convertible, waving, smiling and tossing candy in last week's Greater Moorhead Days.

MOORHEAD - Daniel Damico sat perched on the back seat of a top-down convertible, waving, smiling and tossing candy in last week's Greater Moorhead Days.

Wearing khakis and with the sleeves of his Oxford shirt rolled up, he looked like he was running for office.

He's not a politician, but he plays one on the stage this weekend as Theatre B opens the contemporary political comedy "Church & State."

"It was fun," Damico said of the clever PR campaign in the parade. Some in the crowd, however, were a little undecided.

"There were some confused people," he said, pointing out that the car he rode in had signs that stated "Elect Whitmore" and "Not a real candidate."

Theatergoers won't be so bewildered when the show opens Thursday, Sept. 27, but he hopes they will walk away talking about what they saw.

He stars as Charles Whitmore, a Republican senator running for re-election. A school shooting days before the election rocks Whitmore's conservative values and leaves him with a crisis of faith. When he goes off-script, his wife, political handler, the media and his constituents are wondering what he'll say next.

With the country already so divided along party lines, cast and crew didn't want to do a play that would hit audiences over the head with a political screed.

"This is a slice-of-life play. You could easily make this a left-versus-right, liberal-versus-conservative type of argument. But you'd cheapen the conversation," he says.

Jason Odell Williams' comedy is only two years old and still timely as it unfolds into discussions over gun control and issues of faith.

Damico is not a political activist, but he says he's politically educated to make the best choice when voting.

He even did some studying for this role. He watched tapes of former John Edwards, the former U.S. Senator from North Carolina and 2004 Democratic vice president candidate, as Whitmore is also from North Carolina.

While the play is a comedy, he said it holds back from making the characters into caricatures.

"Then that becomes the topic, that's the roadblock to having the deeper conversation," he says.

"Comedy is a great way to cool the room down a bit. When things get tense, jokes and humor help make us feel comfortable," says director Tim Larson. "It helps remind people that it's theater and fun."

There is fun, but it's not fluff, Damico says.

"This show isn't trying to push you in a direction," he says. "It's asking you to have a conversation. It would be easy to make these characters caricatures, but that cheapens the topic itself," Damico says. "This isn't about picking sides. It's about a conversation, and in this country, I think we need more conversations."

If you go

What: "Church & State"

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 27, through Saturday, Sept. 29, and similar weekend times through Oct. 20, with a 2 p.m. matinee on Oct. 14

Where: Theatre B, 215 10th St. N., Moorhead

Info: Tickets range from $7 to $25; www.theatreb.org or 701-729-8880