Annual "Hexagon" show in Washington
aids charities through Triangle-style humor
By Louis Jacobson 92
For a few Princetonians, Triangle Club has served as a stepping
stone to a professional acting career. But for a handful of alums
in the Washington area, a group called Hexagon enables them to replicate
the Triangle experience on an annual basis.
Every spring for the past 47 years, Hexagon an all-volunteer,
amateur comedy troupe has mounted a musical political-satire
revue in the Triangle mold. This years show, Its
a Grand Old Gag, was put together with the help of a half dozen
Tigers. The show ran for three weeks in March at the Duke Ellington
School for the Arts, with singing, dancing, and countless jokes
at the expense of Washingtons movers and shakers.
Hexagon has a long connection with Princeton, beginning with its
founding in 1955 by Charles Ilsley 51, a Triangle veteran,
and some of his Washington friends, mainly as an outlet for fun
after having finished stints in the military. Coed from the start,
Hexagon got its name from doubling the number of sides in "Triangle."
Open to anyone in the Washington area who has a hankering to perform
or work backstage, the troupe attracts lots of Princetonians, many
of them veterans of Triangle. Darrell Capwell 90 is Hexagons
president. Other active alums include Ilsley, Fred Talcott 66,
Shelley Klein 86, Thankful Vanderstar 88, Dean Manson
89, George Beronio 90 and Laura Estes 97.
"The people who come here have one thing in common: We all
love the theater performing, and being around other theater
people," Capwell says.
For the shows 50-odd writers, the events of September 11 posed
a stiff challenge. "This is the most patriotic show weve
ever done," says Capwell, a public-relations specialist for
the American Federation of Teachers. "We made a conscious effort
this year to tone down the deep, cutting jabs."
Which is not to say that the splashy patriotic numbers of Its
a Grand Old Gag overshadowed terrorism-related material altogether.
"One Nation Under Jihad" spoofs the making of Osama Bin
Ladens videos by envisioning them directed by a flamboyant
artiste who continually gets annoyed by the weak acting skills of
Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda comrades. "Stepping on the Constitution"
offers a searing critique of the anti-civil-liberties moves made
by the federal government since September 11.
Other numbers in this years show were based on more-traditional
(and sillier) forms of Hexagon humor. In "Wheres Dick?"
a linguistically challenged George W. Bush, flanked by a coterie
of female backup singers, winkingly ponders the precise location
of Vice President Dick Cheney. "Movie Wizards" cleverly
tweaks Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings as being
essentially the same movie. And in "Nothing to Hide,"
the "daughter" of Richard Nixons secretary, Rose
Mary Woods, confesses to her role helping Enron shred vital documents,
along with her boyfriend, "Arthur Andersen."
A rotating cast of celebrity newsreaders, including Good Morning
Americas Tony Perkins, offered a series of newsy, one-liner
interludes dubbed "Hexagon Updates." In years past, Sam
Donaldson, Cokie Roberts, Janet Reno, and Donna Shalala have taken
the stage. Hexagon also hosts a Congress Night with actual members
of Congress performing.
For anyone with a work and family life, the Hexagon time commitment
is steep. The writers and musical arrangers begin assembling and
refining their ideas in September. Beginning in January, the cast
rehearses for five or six days a week. Once the show begins its
run, performances are held nightly Wednesday through Sunday.
The quickly evolving Washington news cycle means that Hexagon members
face plenty of last minute rewriting, says Estes, an engineering
project manager who served as associate stage manager. This year,
she says, most of the show was finished two weeks prior to opening.
But one number the one about Enron and Arthur Andersen
wasnt settled until four nights before the curtain went up.
Ilsley recalls that Hexagon was created for fun, not charity. After
the first show, when Hexagon found itself with an unexpected profit
of $2,600, members decided to donate it to the American Cancer Society.
They quickly came to realize that the charitable orientation could
be a big draw for audiences. Now, charities compete vigorously with
each other to become a Hexagon beneficiary. A year and a half before
a show is held, Hexagons 12-member board chooses one charity,
following a lengthy application-and-interview process. This years
show raised $115,000 for two hospice organizations. Hexagons
volunteer activities inspired President Reagan to give Hexagon a
Presidents Volunteer Action Award in 1987, and Washingtonian
magazine named Hexagon a Washingtonian of the year in 1993
the first time that award was ever given to an institution.
A subset of Hexagon known as the Hexagoners performs revues for
hire at social functions around the D.C. area. But over the long
term, Capwell says hed like to see Hexagon travel the country
to perform a full revue, as Triangle does. Hed also like to
see the day when Hexagon acquires its own space, rather than paying
rent for its theater run and hopscotching around to different rehearsal
Still, he and others find the Hexagon experience intoxicating. "It
adds a bit of excitement to an otherwise one-dimensional existence,"
says Dean Manson 89, a lawyer and keyboardist.
Louis Jacobson is a staff correspondent at National Journal
magazine in Washington.