GOV. WILLIAM Donald Schaefer, in absentia, handed Maryland lawmakers their best lines at last night's Legislative Follies, this year called "The Best Little Outhouse in Maryland" or "The Mother of All Follies," depending on whether one believed the poster or the printed program.
Schaefer has not attended the General Assembly's annual joke fest since Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. skewered him in a 1987 Follies skit. But, as several hastily crafted skits proved, his sudden departure to the Middle East, where Schaefer is one of an official party escorting Kuwait's emir back to his homeland, gave legislators extra license to savage the governor for his recent streak of cranky behavior, geographic insults, vague presidential aspirations, sinking polls, proposed welfare cuts and personal letters and visits to disgruntled constituents. The thespians waxed giddy and sophomoric at the unexpected opportunity.
After an introduction by the master of ceremonies, former Princ George's Del. Gerard F. Devlin, State House jesters wasted no time lampooning Schaefer.
In a skit titled "Our House," the curtain rose on an oversized outhouse, a "capital project" built in obvious response to Schaefer's reference to the Eastern Shore as a "----house." Once the door could be wedged open, out stepped Speaker of the House R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. of the Eastern Shore, a regular hayseed in jeans and worn shirt. He pulled out a length of pretend toilet paper inscribed with Schaefer's motto, "Do it now."
In the next skit, "The First 100 Days," Schaefer, as played all evening by Prince George's County Del. Timothy F. Maloney in a sheik's robe, was elected president, or "emir," of the United States. "My fellow Americans, the only thing we have to fear is me," Maloney as Schaefer told a make-believe radio audience.
Taking a shot at Schaefer's first friend, Hilda Mae Snoops,
incensed by the lukewarm reception to her redecoration of the Governor's Mansion, Maloney as the Guv noted that he and Snoops were living at Blair House, the presidential guest quarters, and not in the White House. "Barbara Bush really left that place in terrible shape," he kvetched, echoing Snoops' complaints about former Gov. Harry Hughes and wife Pat.
There followed a series of slides of American landmarks -- the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, Statue of Liberty and Mount Rushmore -- with Schaefer's large head superimposed prominently on every one.
Schaefer and Snoops popped up again and again. When State Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, actually celebrating his 78th birthday last night, auctioned off the fountain commissioned for the Governor's Mansion, Baltimore Del. Leon Albin dashed on stage in drag as Snoops, sporting a purse and ridiculously outdated hat.
After a chorus sang of the fountain: "It's got all kinds of doodads that you hardly ever see," Albin appealed, "Keep it here!"
Of course, Maloney/Schaefer paid a visit to a Catonsville man who had written him critical letters, just as the governor did last week. In another scene, ultra-conservative radio talk show host Les Kinsolving played himself, responding to yet another call from the governor: "You're hogging our air time!"
And later, in the wildest scene of the night, Lieutenant Governor Melvin Steinberg, playing himself, pranced around the stage a la Mick Jagger, as Mitchell and Miller backed him up on guitar.
While the governor was away, his underlings did play. Until Schaefer called collect from Kuwait, and Steinberg, who has well known gubernatorial ambitions, told him obediently, "Oh yes, all's well." No, Steinberg continued, he could not disband the legislature, as was done in Kuwait when things got hot for the emir.
Not all skits were devoted to the governor's exploits. It was a long evening full of misfires, in-jokes and self-parody, as legislators, playing themselves and their colleagues, made fun of their lot. There was, for example, a lamentation about the recession's impact on General Assembly perks.
In a curly red wig, State Treasurer Lucille Maurer played Lucy Ricardo to Miller's Ricky in another raucous scene. Del. John S. Arnick, a Democrat from Baltimore, performed a twitchy spoof of his own exaggerated way of gesturing in committee hearings.
And Southern Maryland lawmakers, toting toy bazookas and Uzis, swaggered in celebration of the defeat a bill in the Judicial ,, Proceedings Committee of the Senate that would ban assault weapons. One pistol-packing delegate boasted that his gun was named the "Piccinini," after Janice Piccinini, the surprise swing vote in the bill's defeat. Meanwhile, anti-gun members hopped on stage with little deer antlers attached to their heads.
But, in a "This is Your Life" scene that dragged on and on, lawmakers positively fawned over power broker Mitchell, recently cleared in a land deal investigation.
Finally, after Maryland State Secretary of Transportation James Lighthizer finished defending an extravagant publication praising his years as Anne Arundel County Executive in the Follies' traditional rebuttal, the General Assembly went home to rest up for their day jobs.