THE ADVENTURES OF ALI & ALI AND THE AXES OF EVIL by Marcus Youssef, Guillermo Verdecchia and Camyar Chai, directed by Verdecchia, with Youssef, Verdecchia, Chai and Tom Butler. Presented by Cahoots Theatre Projects and NeWorld Theatre at Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson). Previews Thursday (February 19), opens Friday (February 20) and runs to March 7, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Sunday 2:30 pm, Tuesday and Thursday 1 pm. $15-$25, stu $12 (Tuesday and Thursday mats), Tuesday and Sunday pwyc. 416-504-7529. Rating: NNNNN
The best satire is the kind that takes no hostages and holds nothing sacred. Keep your seatbelts on for The Adventures Of Ali & Ali And The Axes Of Evil, a 90-minute attack on the politics of our neighbours to the south, the treatment of Third World nations and multinational marketing practices.
Oh, and also the CBC, political correctness, our local film industry and the often-written play about recent immigrants trying to fit into Canadian society.
"Comedy is a way of saying things without getting into trouble," offers co-writer and co-performer Marcus Youssef on the phone from Vancouver the day after the show's premiere. He can't help but add "a Vancouver gloating moment" that it's currently nine degrees above zero.
"I love satire," he continues. "There was one unforgettably funny moment for me when, shortly after 9/11, Mary Walsh on This Hour Has 22 Minutes was shredding Bush's picture.
"As a writer for stage (A Line In The Sand), radio (The Falafel CNN) and journals (This Magazine), I've learned that when you're funny, you can say more. I remember that in a CBC sketch series we got away with calling (BC premier) Gordon Campbell Osama bin Campbell a few months after September 11."
Youssef and Camyar Chai play the cartoon-like Ali Ababwa and Ali Hakim, from the imaginary Middle Eastern country of Agraba. Having rented the theatre - purportedly - to put on a new Canadian play, they proceed to harangue the audience with tasteless jokes, attempt to sell various knick-knacks and seek political asylum, all the while trying to avoid the amorphous darkness that the White House has said is threatening to destroy Western civilization.
There's hardly a recent headline that gets by unscathed.
Ironically, the trio of writers that also includes director Guillermo Verdecchia isn't worried about maintaining topicality in the show.
"Everyone asks how hard it is to stay on top of current events, even when we were piloting the story in its original form on CBC Radio. The fact is that the details might change, but the broad strokes don't. Years ago a man named Bush was fighting a man named Hussein."
The original radio idea started growing when CBC producer Heather Brown asked Youssef and Chai to pitch something to the network. They turned to a game they used to play, "something that, as two Canadians of Middle Eastern extraction, we did for pleasure."
The result is a piece of political theatre in which theatre and politics have equal importance.
"We all share the desire to engage people politically in a way that allows them to hang on to their humanity, to laugh and have a good time and not be railroaded by polemics."
He appreciates the fact that by the first anniversary of September 11, Osama bin Laden had been "marketed and rebranded."
The production makes use of that fact, as frequently as it jokes about body parts.
"I have to admit," says Youssef, and I can feel him beaming on the other end of the line, "that I've always thought that jokes about bums are funny."