Burning Bush: A Faith-Based Musical
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
October 9, 2005
Burning Bush: A Faith-Based Musical has something very specific on its mind. If the production company's name (Nero Fiddled; also the name of writer-director team Noah Diamond and Amanda Sisk's mostly political blog) doesn't tip you off, then the ads in the program for democrats.com, worldcantwait.org, and afterdowningstreet.org may point you in the right direction; so will the posting at the end of the program, which simply reads "IMPEACH BUSH: Work for a Democratic Majority, Midterm Elections November 2006." Indeed, "Impeach Bush" are the last words spoken in this show. (They're also printed on the president's shorts; he moons us at the end of Burning Bush, leaving us with this final message.)
So we're dealing here not just with parody or satire, but agitprop.
As political activism, I'd say that it works reasonably well, especially because it picks up lots of steam as it goes on, galvanizing and energizing its audience by reminding them of lots of reasons why our current administration deserves to be criticized/replaced (security and intelligence failures, the war in Iraq, possibly "stolen" elections, etc.) and offering plenty of angry-cum-humorous songs and sketches that offer up Bush, Cheney, Rumsfield, Rove, and their followers as figures of derision and fun.
My personal favorites: a song in which a teenage girl plaintively asks her otherwise forward-thinking and upstanding mother why she voted Republican (she's joined in successive verses by their gay neighbor and Jesus Christ); a sketch in which a number of folks at a church meeting try to decide what group(s) to blame for the 9/11 attacks; and a very funny sketch in which Rumsfield and Bush, on a "working vacation," locate oil wells all over a map of Iraq while Osama Bin Laden kidnaps Laura Bush right out from under their noses. (At the beginning of this segment, Laura relaxes on the beach with her hubby, stretches her legs languidly, and announces that she really likes being First Lady because they've never been able to take so many vacations before.)
Ok, so if you think the foregoing—and about 90 minutes more of the same—is funny and on target, then Burning Bush is for you. If you don't, you're not likely to be influenced by it, except perhaps to dig yourself deeper into your Republican trench—which is absolutely your right. What's great about Burning Bush, regardless of your own political views, is that it exists at all: it reminds us that we still live in a country where activism against the regime is protected by our Constitution; and it also reminds us how rare, compared to, say, the Vietnam Era, this sort of very pointed theatre-as-pure-propaganda is nowadays. We need more Noah Diamonds and Amanda Sisks to take aim at all the bastions of power in this country, regardless of the party they happen to belong to.
How is Burning Bush as theatre? Scattershot but very clever; well-executed, principally because of all the positive energy behind it. Some of the niftier touches include a parody of The Who's Tommy purporting to tell the story of George W. Bush's childhood (to the tune of "Pinball Wizard: "That dumb kid / Sure is mean to frogs!"), a dancing Vice President dressed in a business suit and a Disneyfied oversized Cheney head, and a woman playing the first President Bush as an outsized parody of Dana Carvey's trademark caricature.
The six-person ensemble, led by Diamond and Sisk themselves, bring tons of conviction to their work, and clearly enjoy all the goofs they're having at their targets' expense. Brian Louis Hoffman is hilarious as George W. Bush, particularly in an envelope-pushing sketch that re-enacts the infamous 9/11 a.m. reading of "My Pet Goat" to a room full of Florida school children. Ellie Dvorkin plays both Barbara and George Herbert Walker Bush, among others; Kim Moscaritolo is very good as a CNN-type journalist with the improbable name Mopsy Jimenez-Tippington; and Corey Moosa is dead-on as Karl Rove, a pro-Bush Dad, and an anti-Bush Jesus. Playing the rock & roll music—some familiar, some original—is the band Death Mask, who are swell, and seem as totally into it as the rest of the company.
I don't know if Diamond and Sisk are interested in keeping their stage show going through next year's elections; they're certainly genuinely interested in working toward political and social change within the system, and an agitating satire like this one—updated appropriately—might help keep the troops energized for the cause. Either way, they're striking a blow for freedom just by mounting Burning Bush, which is hands-down the most politically motivated show I've seen in NYC in a long time. Hardly anything could be more American than that.