nytheatre.com review by Case Aiken
August 15, 2010
Plays about politics and their dangers are tricky to pull off. Some do a good job of it, but many more fail. Stand Fast, playing at HERE Arts Center in this year's FringeNYC, is for the most part in the latter category. The best way to describe the piece would be "the politics of the stupid." The show depicts what politicians (who are apparently idiots) will do in order to get re-elected, even if it means butting heads with military officials (who are also idiots), and causing a civil war. It reminded me of ancient Greek comedies in that regard, with the characters being driven by the thinnest of motives, however the show lacked the humor to carry the scenes and a clear message to tie them together. Good theatre is supposed to raise questions, not beat the audience over the head with answers, but this had me asking what seem like the wrong ones. I felt that writers Ron Brawer and Tom Wirtshafter and director Michael Page have an agenda here, but I couldn't make up my mind what it is. Is the argument that democracy is an inefficient system that should be replaced by a benevolent dictatorship? Or is it that we take our National Guard for granted? Don't trust women in the military, maybe? The whole effort is scattershot, throwing out references and parody without making any compelling case or finding richer levels of humor.
The show depicts Mississippi State Governor, Jerry Davis (Einar Gunn), struggling to gain points in the polls after being rocked by scandal. He attempts to do so by preventing a boy whose brother's already died in the Middle East from being shipped out with the National Guard. However, that division of the National Guard falls under federal authority, so he finds himself powerless, despite public speeches to the contrary. He decides to declare war on the Nutria—or swamp rats as they're often called—and enlists the National Guard to eliminate this threat. Somehow it works and the former-football-star President (Brad Makarowski) decides to use it to put pressure on General Marcus Clay (Daniel Mooney), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and his political rival. Next thing you know, troops from both the National Guard and the Army are laying siege to the swamps of Mississippi. Seeing this as a success, other governors around the nation follow suit and it leads to armed forces being dispatched throughout the nation over a made-up cause. Sure enough, someone decides to take advantage of this situation and seizes control of the nation. Given how horribly run it was prior to this however, we're apparently to see this as a good thing.
As a play, this is a long way from reaching its potential. Much of the styling of the scenes and the redundant characters in the oversized cast would lend better to a movie script, particularly the unnecessary sequences that are shown on a projector screen. There are some clever ideas and good possibilities for political farce, but the whole thing, from the dialogue to the direction and design to the bulk of the performances, don't live up to it.