nytheatre.com review by Larry Kunofsky
October 11, 2006
Legend has it that Tom Lehrer stopped writing his great political songs after Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, because that had rendered political satire obsolete. Using that logic, one has to shudder at our current era of political shenanigans. And the state of political satire, too. If political satire was dead in 1973, how much dead-er can it get now? I found these thoughts inescapable as I watched Rough Theatre's Dumbya's Rapture, written by Eric Diamond.
Dumbya's Rapture is about George W. Bush and his cabinet. The President (Christopher Cole), whom everyone in the play refers to as "The President," using hand gestures to accent the quotation marks, is followed around by a smitten Condoleezza Rice (Maryam Fatima), a snake-handling and speaking-in-tongues John Ashcroft (Geoff Barnes), and a hungry-for-war Donald Rumsfeld (Fred Rueck). Colin Powell (Charles J. Roby) tries to talk sense into "The President," but this just gets him locked up in a dungeon. The villain of the piece is undoubtedly Dick Cheney (played here by Diamond, who also directs). As with any self-respecting (and self-loathing) villain in any play, the Cheney of this play plots and schemes as if for the sheer sake of plotting and scheming, grimacing menacingly at the audience, waiting for our contempt the way a hero would bask in our love.
Everyone in the play is corrupt and is working in one way or another to champion their own agenda, which, in turn, threatens our way of life and the very lives of thousands of people. The President, as depicted herein, is an idiot. More than just a garden-variety idiot, he is a greedy, childish, petulant, religious nut of an idiot. There is no hero here, of course, since the whole point of Dumbya's Rapture is to depict political chicanery, corruption, and incompetence. Which brings us back to the struggle of political satire in a time when politics seems to be a satire in and of itself. Since every character in Dumbya's Rapture is just about as bereft of values as everybody else, we are left without any value with which to measure the misdeeds of the play. What we lack here, ultimately, is perspective. Diamond's vision of this world is actually pretty sharp, but he needs to give us something human to balance the inhumanity of this kind of bloody politics. As anyone who's been following the news must realize, dissent is being expressed in any number of ways by any number of people against the Bush administration every day. If some of that dissent were dramatized herein, there would be conflict, there would be action, and then there would be the makings of a real play.
If I were reviewing the idea behind this play, I'd give Dumbya's Rapture a resounding rave. Dramatizing, or lampooning, the events leading up to 9/11 and following the current, ongoing war in Iraq is, I think, a very healthy and necessary idea for a play. Unfortunately, a play has to be more than a good idea. Comedy, even political satire, can't simply conjure up ideas in an amusing way, it has to make us laugh. And Dumbya's Rapture fails to make us laugh just as it fails to make us care.
I truly believe that the entire cast of this show is comprised of talented actors, but each and every actor is compromised by the depiction of their real-life counterparts in the over-the-top style of the show. Because everyone in the cast seems to be imitating (and ONLY imitating) a real person, nothing seems real or funny.
If I were summing up Dumbya's Rapture in three words, those words would be On The Nose. Satire demands subtlety, and subtlety is sorely lacking here. The problem of the play, perhaps, is linked to the problem in our country these days (at least in one perspective). Maybe there really is no hero here. Maybe all there is to this story is greed and madness. A voter's registration form is placed within the play's program. Perhaps the only hope that this play could provide is through democracy in action. But if so, why did I sit through this play? I could have stayed home and watched the news.
There was one moment in Dumbya's Rapture that really got to me, though. In a couple of scenes, the First Lady (Morgan Lindsey Tachco) addresses the audience. In the first scene, she reveals her contempt for her husband, which is in keeping with the rest of the play. In the second scene, while she sits next to the new President of Afghanistan (Joshua Young), waving at the public with a terribly desperate smile on her face, we hear her thoughts on what it would be like to be part of this other president's harem, away from the public eye, rather than at its center. For a brief moment, I saw a real human being in this play rather than a caricature. The human being I saw might not be one whom I'd invite home for Thanksgiving, but she was someone for whom I felt some actual sympathy. In this moment, I actually felt something for someone else. It was a really nice moment. If Dumbya's Rapture had more moments like it, the political satire might have actually hit its mark, disproving the legend behind Ton Lehrer's retirement, and proving, as I truly believe, how necessary political satire is, when it's On The Mark, instead of just On The Nose.