They weren’t projecting, they were SHOUTING!

And even if they were better actors, the play would still be a lot of frivolous twaddle.

It’s “Early and Often,” a play by Barbara Wallace and Thomas R. Wolfe, and directed by Ron West, that explores political morality in 1960s Chicago. And if that isn’t an oxymoron, I don’t know what is.

As I entered the auditorium I received a bear hug and a shout from Marty Collins (Mat Lageman), who introduced me to the audience as Norma, owner of the best bakery in town, and asked me to vote for him for State Assemblyman.

A promising start, but, unfortunately, Marty is murdered 10 seconds later by The Mob and spends the rest of the play being schlepped from one cold storage locker to another or bundled up in the trunks of various cars.

It’s the night before the election, you see, and the Ward Boss of Cook County’s Democratic Party, John Flannery, (Bjorn Johnson) decides that it’s best to keep Collins’ death a secret until after he is elected the following day. Then Flannery would release the news of Collins’ “suicide” and appoint an interim assemblyman to hold the fort until he can set up his idiot brother-in-law (Ehrin Marlow) to win the seat in the follow-up election.

“Early and often,” by the way, is the cynical advice on how to vote offered, in addition to a couple of bucks “for drinks,” by district captains to voters in their precincts.

There’s also a silly romantic subplot between Flannery’s man Art Ruck (Bryan Bertone), a flashy, college-educated former idealist whose scruples got trampled in the political jungle, and a cheesy chanteuse (Catherine Urbanek) who won’t marry him because he took another woman to see “Butterfield Eight” — “and that’s not the kind of movie you would take your mother to,” she rebukes him.

Art, who is identified as “half-Jewish” for some indefinable reason, has a couple of confessional sessions with a priest, whom he shakes down to get a more favorable liquor license for the proprietor of his favorite bar.

Art also delivers a soliloquy about the efficacy of turning out the vote, even if the voters are dead. Should the fact that an apartment building full of Democrats burned down deprive the dead victims of their vote? he wonders.

“We are not cheaters,” he asserts. “We are manipulators!”

And so it goes. Who eventually wins the election we don’t find out. It isn’t exactly a Kennedy-Nixon cliffhanger. More like the manipulated election of George W. Bush.

“Early and Often” will continue at the Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through May 26. For tickets and information, visit

Cynthia Citron can be reached at

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