THE BRAT RACE, Blue Light Theatre Company, at Chicago Dramatists Workshop. Terry Abrahamson's musical about yuppie Chicago parents trying to get their preschoolers into private schools contains about 30 minutes of the funniest, most riotous satire I've seen this year. Another hour of it is bland filler. And the rest is so gross, inappropriate, and just plain dumb that you might want to throttle the author and scream, "Look what you did! You were so close. It could've been good, but you blew it!"
The best part of The Brat Race are the songs. Sung by four couples (WASPs, Jews, blacks, and lesbians), they concern everything from the difficulty of making assessment payments ("Condo Hell") to the impossibility of getting good seats at (now-defunct) Poplar Creek ("No Connections") to the ridiculous steps parents will take to make their children desirable to independent-minded schools ("He's Gay, He's Proud & He's Four"). Combining hummable melodies, borscht-belt shtick, and hilarious rhymes, Abrahamson recalls the best days of Mel Brooks, some 25 years ago.
But sadly there's no plot, just a string of dull, time-killing scenes in which the parents tour artsy, WASPy, and Catholic schools. About two-thirds of the way through, Abrahamson resorts to humor so racist and sexist it would make Jackie Mason cringe. One of his dad characters, for instance, convinces his wife to screw the headmaster at a pedophile-infested Catholic school: "Who do I have to screw to get into this place?" she sings. "Who cares how fast he blows his wad?" Yuck. These scenes completely destroy the play's happy-go-lucky hilarity, leaving the audience with a decidedly bad taste in their mouths.