Here Comes the Change
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
December 26, 2008
Thinking back on Bina Sharif's satirical vaudeville Here Comes the Change, I was surprised to realize that the scattershot politics of the show bothered me more than the scattershot production values. I wonder if a political columnist would have had the opposite reaction.
Here Comes the Change is Sharif's 25th play, and her 18th at Theater for the New City. Somehow, I've not seen her work until now, and indeed my curiosity about it was key to my decision to attend this show. The subject matter, I confess, felt potentially off-putting. With the once-seemingly-endless presidential election receding into memory and its hopeful result still fueling optimism against the odds, parody and satire involving Sarah Palin, John McCain, and Joe the Plumber is not necessarily what I'm in the mood to see on stage—and I don't think I'm alone in this.
But the parodic aspects of Here Comes the Change turn out to be its best part, and it felt better than expected to see them. John McCain, portrayed as a tinderbox of tension by Jonathan Weber, argues nonsensically against "sharing the wealth" while wandering cluelessly around his debate podium. Sarah Palin, impersonated with fitful success by Sonia Torres, mangles the English language and clear thinking while Joe Biden (played by Raul Jennings, who looks shockingly like the Vice President Elect) looks on, speechless. And President Bush, channeled enthusiastically by Kevin Mitchell Martin, makes a couple of appearances, the second of which constitutes a timely warning that would be a grand ending for a play whose themes were more serious and cautionary than this one's.
Sharif herself plays the nameless moderator of one Presidential Debate, as well as Katie Couric going one-on-one with Palin in another segment. She has given herself what struck me as the funniest line in the show: when McCain mentions his wife once too often during a rambling "answer," Sharif's moderator shuts him up neatly by observing "Cindy's not a politician. She's just rich."
The shape of most of Here Comes the Change is a revue of vignettes sampling the debates and other sound bites, some featuring Joe the Plumber and others (the least successful ones) imagining a drunken Republican mouthing off to a reporter. Framing this long middle section are segments that work much less well. The prologue is a very strange scene set on a Christmas Eve in the early '80s, in which an East Village performance artist (stripper?) named Fatima is selected by God to give birth to a redeemer (via immaculate conception) who turns out to be Barack Hussein Obama (emphasis on the middle name; Sharif is confusing on the point of whether this "savior" is supposed to be a Muslim or not).
The epilogue amounts to a diatribe against U.S. policy—past, present, and future—toward Pakistan, which is Sharif's home nation. Though the points raised here are not without validity, finding fault with Obama's relations with Pakistan nearly a month before his inauguration feels unfair, and serves to erase much of the good vibe that the earlier pro-Obama portions of Here Comes the Change engender. This was the main source of my uneasiness about the show: is Sharif sharing in the general euphoria of "Yes, We Can" in this show, or is she joining the increasing fray of pundits who are second guessing our new chief executive before he has a chance to do anything constructive?