The engagingly titled “Rush Limbaugh in Night School” proves somewhat less engaging in performance, although it makes a fine radio sketch. The one-man show , written and performed by Charlie Varon, is an extended shaggy-dog story posing as a mock documentary, with the flexibly voiced Varon undertaking all of the more than 20 roles.
Throughout the play’s 90 minutes, broken unnecessarily into two acts, Varon does passable and funny imitations of fellow solo performers Spalding Gray, Garrison Keillor and Jackie Mason.
He weaves them together in a willfully improbable tale involving the arch-conservative radio personality and his unwitting romantic alliance with a fugitive from the Weather Underground. While some in the audience will no doubt find fancy in Varon’s verbal odyssey, just as many will see a labored exercise stretched silly.
Story is set sometime in the future, with a PBS-type narrator relating an imprisoned Limbaugh’s downfall and arrest in 1996. In documentary style, witnesses tell their tales and flashbacks are re-enacted — all by Varon, of course — to tell Limbaugh’s story.
Events begin with declining ratings. Limbaugh, facing competition from a rival — and Hispanic — talkshow host, enrolls in New York’s New School for Social Research under a false identity to learn Spanish.
There he meets and falls in love with another student, a seemingly mild-mannered housewife who happens to be a long-lost member of the radical ’60s underground. Before he realizes what’s happening, Limbaugh is drawn into her world of feminism and left-wing politics.
False identities, covert operations and various plotlines climax in the play’s farcical conclusion: a Shakespeare in the Park production of “Othello” in which Limbaugh in blackface (not actually depicted) co-stars with Keillor and Mason, directed by Gray.
Varon might have their voices down, but what he hasn’t learned from his three colleagues is the sense of detail grounded in reality that draws audiences into a monologist’s world. Once the audience is trapped, those more skilled tale-tellers can lift their listeners to whimsical heights. Varon’s tale begins absurd — wouldn’t a wealthy man like Limbaugh hire a tutor? — and spins in circles.
Nor does the slightly built, bearded Varon, bounding about a spare stage, ever take full satiric advantage of his targets, either conservative or liberal. Surely Limbaugh is grist for more than the buffoonery depicted here.
Varon’s Limbaugh lampoon, like the others in the play, is a broad caricature lacking the sting that might have turned “Rush Limbaugh” into something more than a passingly amusing daydream.