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When Naughty Congressmen Inspire Funny Plays

Date: Sep 19, 2014


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A closeted gay Congressman hits on your boyfriend, and presto, an Off-Broadway comedy is born! So it was with Tail! Spin!, a verbatim recreation of four preposterous, real-life political sex scandals (now playing at Culture Project) inspired by my days batting back the wandering hand of a very friendly Congressman.

See, back in the 90s, I was a young Hill staffer making my jaunty way in the world when Congressman Mark Foley (R-FL) rolled into town. Gregarious and chummy, Foley quickly befriended lots of young staffers like me (this was years before the sending-IMs-to-underage-pages scandal that would ultimately cost him his job). And yet it didn't take long for my staffer friends and I to figure out that, when it came to the glad-handing Congressman, keeping a certain amount of personal distance was the right, umm, policy prescription. (Just ask my then-boyfriend, for whom evading Foley was basically a full-time job).

Even after leaving Capitol Hill, I was fascinated with the ability of politicians like Foley (gay and straight) to live diametrically different lives in public and private---lives that any reasonable person knows are doomed to collide spectacularly. (After all, political sex scandals aren't about sex, they're about power: the politician's belief that he---it's almost always a 'he'---can get away with things that you and I can't.) Wanting to write a fictionalized play around these themes, I dug into the transcripts of the Foley scandal for "inspiration."

Well. That was certainly an eye-opener. Suffice to say, a couple of "get a ruler and measure it for me" statements later, it was clear this play had already written itself. The politicians themselves had done the work for me.

And so began Tail! Spin!, a comically insane, word-for-word re-enactment of the scandals that brought down not only my buddy Foley, but also Anthony ("I was hacked!") Weiner, Larry ("Wide stance") Craig, and Mark ("Appalachian Trail") Sanford. Thanks to my uncredited collaborator (Google), I was able to dredge up nearly every last word secretly spoken, written, tweeted, or even sung in these scandals. My real challenge was in figuring out how to tell four very different stories---each with its own crazy characters---using a cast of less than 50 (and that's Anthony Weiner's sexting partners alone!)

My breakthrough came in the form of Rachel Dratch, whom we knew had the outsized comedic chops to play not just one role, but dozens of them. And not only would that be a hell of a lot of fun to watch, it made total sense creatively. After all, the women in the lives of these disgraced politicians were nothing if not utterly interchangeable. Weiner's sexters, Foley's 'beard' (an ex-Miss Germany, no less!), Craig's deluded wife, even Sanford's soulmate-turned-no-mate: They were little more than day players in the revolving door of the politicians' egos and libidos.

With Rachel playing all the wives, all the mistresses, and of course, all the Barbara Walters-es, we were well on our way to a show.

I sure wasn't laughing when Mark Foley pawed at my boyfriend all those years ago. But thanks to Tail! Spin!, others are laughing now.


Photo by Carol Rosegg