To mark the 116th anniversary of Huey P. Long's birth, director Perry Martin and John "Spud" McConnell have revived their one-man show The Kingfish at the Roosevelt Hotel, where Long was a frequent guest. The original play premiered off Broadway in 1991, received good reviews and ran for 10 weeks.
Larry L. King (author of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas) co-wrote The Kingfish with Ben Z. Grant. It combines quotes from Long and imagined monologues. McConnell dons a linen suit and straw boater and conjures Long's wicked, down-home sense of humor, concern for the little man and skill with the cynical power plays of politics. All of it makes for great theater.
In one tale, Long, hoping to widen his appeal, waxes sentimental about how his Catholic grandparents would hitch up the mule every Sunday and take him to Catholic church services. Then his Protestant grandparents would hitch up the mule and take him to a Baptist church. When his interlocutor says he didn't know Long had Catholic grandparents, Long scowls in disbelief at the man's credulity: "We didn't even have a mule."
Long exaggerated his poor childhood for populist appeal, but he wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He left high school to peddle cooking oil and patent medicines door-to-door. Later he put those years of itinerant hucksterism to good use, as he recounted in a stump speech about "High Poppa Low Rum" and "Low Poppa High Rum." The fanciful patent medicines are made from tree bark — one from the top of the tree, the other from the bottom. They're guaranteed to cure what ails you, and they're like the political parties, he says.
"The only difference I've found between Republican leadership and Democratic leadership is that one wants to skin you from the neck down and the other wants to skin you from the ankles up," thunders the Kingfish.
McConnell is mesmerizing as the huffing-and-puffing good ole boy. He brings the right mixture of whimsy and menace to the Kingfish. Ron Goldberg's set is simple but effective. Jim Fields' archival photo projections and Dan Zimmer's lighting contribute to the visual impact. This is a don't-miss show. — Dalt Wonk
8 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; 3 p.m. Sun.; through Sept. 27
The Roosevelt Hotel, The Orpheum Room, 123 Baronne St., (888) 946-4839; www.kingfishonstage.com