Well, that was an odd experience.
I had tickets a couple weeks ago to see a world premiere production of the play Vicuña by Jon Robin Baitz, which is running at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. However, when I had bought the tickets a few months earlier, it had never occurred to me -- given a lifetime of experience -- to check to see if there'd be any conflict with the beloved Chicago Cubs and the World Series. As it happened, there was. Who'd a thought? So, I blew off the show. However, I'm very slightly acquainted with Robbie Baitz (only through email. We exchanged a lot of them during the last Writers Guild strike several years back), so I did want to see it. Plus, the story sounded interesting, and I'd have wanted to see it regardless. Happily, I was able to exchange seats for another evening, with a service charge. And so I went last night.
Why is that an odd experience? Here's the premise of the show, described as a satire on the Center Theatre Group's website --
"A tailor to the wealthy, powerful, and famous struggles to serve a very unusual client: a blustering real estate tycoon and reality TV star who—to everyone’s surprise—becomes a major party’s nominee for President. As the election spins out of control, the tailor and his apprentice are forced to examine their roles as confidants and image-makers for the candidate…and whether the right suit has the power to clinch the presidency."
I have absolutely no doubt that watching the play two weeks ago was an UTTERLY and TOTALLY different reality from two days after the actual, real-life election.
Honestly, I really wasn't sure I was even up for going to see a satire about this, so soon after votes were in, and considered blowing it off again. But last month I'd sent a note Robbie that I'd be going, and even though I don't even know if he remembered, I felt a certain obligation.
And the truth is that it is indeed a tough play now to sit through. To be clear, when I say "now," I mean literally that. Now, two days after the election. I don't think it will be as much the case in three months, and likely (hopefully) not at all in a year. But now? Yes, it was difficult. There are a lot of very funny lines in the first act, though I think I only laughed twice -- and both cases had nothing to do with politics. But it was certainly well-written.
What's good to note though is that, although described as a satire, that doesn't mean the whole play is funny -- and, in fact, the second act takes a turn and becomes more dramatic. And then ratchets things up even more. And it's really quite strong, building surprisingly to an unexpected impactful conclusion. Make no mistake, good as the show is, it was still very raw and difficult to watch only two days after the election -- the audience was very responsive throughout although clearly muted, which was equally clear watching faces and body language at intermission -- but the show nonetheless works very well even under such conditions because ultimately it's not a joke-fest making fun of the character and situation but turns out to have a meaningful subtext that bubbles to the surface and takes over.
Jon Robin Baitz is a terrific writer, with a great many plays to his credit, perhaps most notably Other Desert Cities which got a Tony nomination as Best Play and won the Outer Circle Critics Award in 2011. He also created the TV series Brothers & Sisters.
Harry Groener (who most people would like recognize from his many genial appearances on TV and films, as well as Broadway) stars at the candidate. And the other recognizable actor in the show is Brian George, who plays the tailor, and who has a very long acting career, too, though most-certainly is best known as "Babu" on Seinfeld. I noticed a bunch of stumbles in the first scene (it's possible that, being a first production and so timely, there are some line changes being tweaked), perhaps too the rawness of the reality affects the cast, as well. In any event they were gone by the end of the first act More to the point, the whole cast was very good -- Ramiz Monsef plays the outspoken apprentice tailor whose parents have a questionable immigration status. And Samantha Sloyan is the candidate's daughter and campaign manger, who begins to see the quandry she's involved in as her father's dark side slowly surfaces. Also, in a small role, but with a great monologue is Linda Gehringer who plays the party's chairwoman sent on a mission to buy the candidate off so that he will drop out of the race before destroying the party, and possibly the country.
I'm extremely glad I saw the show. I just wish it wasn't last night and under these circumstances. But it certainly made it unique, an experience most people won't have...
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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