nytheatre.com review by Matthew Trumbull
June 8, 2005
Two browser windows sit side-by-side on my screen as I write this, each displaying separate and austere-looking websites that greet us like butlers, “Welcome to the White House”. The one President Bush wants you to read is the official government website of his administration, www.whitehouse.gov. The other is a scathing lampoon of it, www.whitehouse.org. Most likely, our Chief Executive, vigorous free speech advocate that he is, would just as soon the former drew overwhelming focus. Nevertheless, whitehouse.org gets quite a bit of attention, much of it in the form of emails to the editor. They run the gamut from hilarious to chilling, strangely compelling to bluntly stupid, and six fine actors read them in character in Dear Dubya, Patriotic Love Letters to whitehouse.org, the sharply relevant, tightly impacting American character study at the Brick Theatre's Moral Values Festival.
At a cursory glance the sites could be sisters, but when we look at the Presidential Seal at the top of whitehouse.org, we see the eagle is indeed a buzzard. Whitehouse.org quickly reveals itself to be a satirical, mocking website of the man in presidential power. Millions perceive this, thousands do not, and they write in from both sides of that divide to the site’s founder, editor, and chief writer, John A. Wooden.
The sample of emails expertly selected by Wooden for this show display the fascinating strata of political identity in this country, and are grouped by categorical titles displayed on a screen. Segments like “Conservative Admirers” include icy, well-spoken darkness:
I applaud you taking advantage of your freedom of speech. But your tricks will pay you back after you pass on. Your father, the devil, has a special place for you.
And much that is not so well-spoken:
…you fools are a collection of shit-brained cum-dumpsters…
These thoughts are followed by a dazzling cavalcade of misguidedness: liberals who think it is a Bush site offering tirades; conservatives who think it is a Bush site offering wrist-slaps; other conservatives offering pep talks; writers from outside of the U.S. offering indignation over Bush foreign policy; and perhaps the most riveting group, the poor souls who write in with no political point of view whatsoever, seeking only someone in power who will listen. It is heartbreaking to hear “Ms. Holmes,” who sees an image of Jesus Christ when she turns her granddaughter’s ultrasound print upside down. She has gotten both approving and askance glances from others when she shared the photo, and now seeks the opinion of the current President. “Please I need someone with a higher power to tell me that this is ok.” She assures him that she is not crazy.
The cast gracefully avoids editorializing or projecting any kind of mental disadvantage on the people portrayed. Under R.J. Tolan’s quick-paced and compelling direction, they grant these characters the passion, intelligence, and dignity that they felt with their every typed word. How their words are judged under the circumstance of performance depends on the audience and their conscience. But Nazis, shopkeepers, and grandmothers all are given three-dimensional authenticity by the six nimble actors, who each are in charge of multiple characters to present. Their thoughts are sometimes hateful and starkly ignorant, but giving them flesh and a voice holds a powerful mirror up to us, and those fired up enough to write to this website can be seen as human beings who ride with us to get to work, sit next us to see a movie, and wait in front of us to vote.