Political upsets make people very upset about politics. Hopes get dashed. Dreams of "what might have been" evaporate into thin air. One of the most famous political upsets is memorialized in this photo of President Harry S. Truman holding a copy of the Chicago Daily Tribune that mistakenly claimed Truman had lost the 1948 election to New York's Governor Thomas E. Dewey.
As Election Day 2016 drew near, Newsweek did what any reasonable publisher would do. It commissioned text and artwork for a special commemorative edition that could be released if either candidate won the Presidency.
When Donald Trump's victory became apparent (and the nation's pollsters and media -- who had largely predicted a solid victory for Hillary Clinton -- ended up with egg on their collective faces), it didn't take long for folks to start posting their political insights on social media.
- One person wrote "Flip 9/11 and you get 11/9 (the anniversary of Kristallnacht)."
- One meme read: "November 9, 1989 -- Fall of the Berlin Wall."
- One OpEd piece written by The New York Times columnist Ross Douthat reminded us that "Today, November 9, is the 18th of Brumaire by the French Revolutionary calendar -- the day in 1799 when Napoleon Bonaparte led a coup against the revolutionary government, established himself as First Consul, and set about redirecting world history as few men have done before or since."
- One documentary filmmaker (Michael Moore) wrote "Trump's victory is no surprise. He was never a joke. Treating him as one only strengthened him. He is both a creature and a creation of the media and the media will never own that. "
- One post included the following graphic.
While many Americans were glued to their television sets watching cable news or relishing snarky comments from such comedic talents as Lewis Black, Seth Meyers, Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, Samantha Bee, John Oliver, and Trevor Noah, I'd like to step back for a minute and pay tribute to what some of America's regional theatres did to help audiences cope with the stress of one of the nastier Presidential elections in the history of American politics.
First, I tip my hat to Berkeley Repertory Theatre, which staged a new adaptation of It Can't Happen Here. Travel back in time 83 years to March 4, 1933 when, gripped by the side effects of the Great Depression, America's political landscape became so tense that, in his first inaugural address, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt warned that "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Concerned by the rise of Fascism in Europe (and the threat of Huey Long's plan to run for the Presidency of the United States), in 1935 Sinclair Lewis wrote a political thriller entitled It Can't Happen Here.
With Father Coughlin spreading antisemitism through his radio broadcasts and a growing wave of anti-intellectualism, Lewis and John C. Moffitt adapted his novel into a stage play which, thanks to the Federal Theatre Project, had its world premiere in 21 theatres spread across 17 states on October 27, 1936. On Monday, October 24, 2016, to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the play's premiere, regional theatres, universities, and communities across the United States presented readings of Berkeley Rep’s new adaptation of It Can't Happen Here.
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One of America's great theatre artists, Mike Daisey, tested his new monologue about Donald Trump at regional theatres such as The Public Theater in New York, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., The Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, and the Shotgun Players in Berkeley. On September 6, Daisey announced that he was making his script for The Trump Card available for download and performance at no cost. "I believe this is a unique election in my lifetime, a unique candidate, and I wanted to give other artists an opportunity to build their own productions with these blueprints," he stated.
As Election Day grew closer, Daisey struck an agreement with Slate.com to livestream a performance of The Trump Card from New York's famous Town Hall on November 1. Now that Trump has won the Presidency, watching Daisey perform his monologue will be more chilling than ever.
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On Monday, November 7 (the night before the election), four small theatre companies -- Studio Theatre in Washington, D.C., Actor's Express in Atlanta, SpeakEasy Stage in Boston, and Magic Theatre in San Francisco -- performed free readings of a new play by Joshua ("Bad Jews") Harmon entitled Ivanka: A Medea For Right Now. In his program note, Harmon stated:
"Many have noted that the political rhetoric in our country increasingly sounds like Germany before Hitler came to power. I am not usually an overtly political person. In an age when people post their views on Facebook and tweet them out to the blogosphere, I refrain, valuing my privacy too much. Besides, I’m not convinced a feeble post or tweet sent out to like-minded individuals has much effect on the outcome of this election. But I do not want to wake up on November 9th and wonder, could I have done something to prevent what just happened? Despite being neither a politician nor an activist, I feel a sense of responsibility, as a concerned citizen, to speak out. Being a writer, I sat down and wrote a play. IVANKA transports contemporary characters to a classical situation in the hopes of highlighting the extent of the tragedy that is the rise of Donald Trump. What’s arguably even more tragic is watching intelligent people stand beside him, asking us to vote for him, when they must know his seemingly unstoppable brand of hate has such toxic potential. The play posits that the only person with enough influence and power to stop Donald Trump is the one who stands closest to him, loyally by his side: his own daughter. At its core, IVANKA is an act of civil disobedience. While we still live in a free country, it is our duty to exercise our First Amendment rights and speak out."
Modeled on the famous tragedy by Euripides that was first produced in 431 B.C., Harmon transformed Medea into Ivanka Trump (Megan Trout), Medea's nurse into Omarosa Manigault (Khalia Davis), and the messenger who describes the death of Glauce/Melania into Chris Christie (John R. Lewis).
With Armando Rodriguez as the President of Mexico (who offered Ivanka safe haven but insisted that she get to Mexico under her own power) and Josh Schell as Eric Trump, Harmon's play featured Jeremy Kahn as a super-obnoxious Donald Trump, Jr. who informed his sister that she was being evicted from Trump Tower. The traditional Greek chorus was replaced by three women from the Park East Synagogue (Terry Bamberger, Jeri Lynn Cohen, Jody Gelb) dropping pearls of wisdom like "I hear she married a Jew!" while Ivanka didn't hesitate to call her husband, Jared Kushner, a pussy.
The final scene had Ivanka leaning out of a black helicopter before heading off to a new life in Mexico and telling her father (Robert Parsons) that he was a total loser and it was his fault that she killed her two sons.
The cast met with director Logan Ellis on the morning of the performance, had one read-through of the script and went on to give a fascinating reading that night. As always, Megan Trout was stunning, delivering a surprisingly layered performance with so little time for preparation. John R. Lewis's gruesome description of Melania's death scene as poison seeped into her body from the tiara and gold wedding gown that Medea's children had delivered as gifts -- "She can't resist anything that's gold" -- was a wonderful piece of satirical horror fiction perfectly tailored to the Ancient Greek tradition of keeping the blood and gore offstage while shocking the audience with the gruesome details of an unspeakable death.
I sincerely hope the playwright will follow in Mike Daisey's footsteps by making his script for IVANKA! A Medea For Right Now available online. It is a superb piece of parody and political satire that should be able to withstand any legal challenge from our ever-litigious President-Elect Fuckface von Clownstick who only wants people to say nice things about him. In the meantime, I urge people to read Howard Sherman's beautifully-written blog post entitled A Post-Election Plea, To The Theatre And Its Artists. Now that Trump has been elected President, I doubt we'll ever see Mr. Harmon's play produced by an American theatre company. Logan Ellis, who directed Magic Theatre's reading, notes that:
"Joshua's play makes me question the nature through which my fellow Millennial plebeians and I attempt to express political instincts without ever having seen the implications with our own eyes. IVANKA is a vengeful theater nerd fan fiction of characters we might otherwise only know through our Facebook and Twitter feeds. In what better way can we possibly grasp the humanity of the Trump family for ourselves?"
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In the past few years there has been a growing anger shared by women and minorities about their desire to define themselves and be respected on their own terms. Faced with straight women who want someone to be their "best gay friend" as well as dangerously ignorant fools like Vice-President Elect Mike Pence and Congressman Todd Akin (who know nothing about a woman's reproductive organs but are determined to pass hateful anti-abortion legislation and defund Planned Parenthood), it takes a great deal of inner strength for women to articulate, announce, and assert their right to be their own person.
"Mansplaining is, at its core, a very specific thing. It's what occurs when a man talks condescendingly to someone (especially a woman) about something he has incomplete knowledge of, with the mistaken assumption that he knows more about it than the person he's talking to does."
For a simple way to understand the phenomenon of mansplaining, read this post from the satirical website Above Average entitled Um Actually, I Really DON’T Think You Understand What Mansplaining Is. Or watch the following video:
While women have had to suffer through far too many episodes of mansplaining at home and at work, one part of the phenomenon is rarely mentioned. Many men are embarrassed when they hear another man taking it upon himself to mansplain things to a woman.
Golden Thread Productions recently staged the West Coast premiere of Yussef El Guindi's sizzling play entitled Our Enemies: Lively Scenes of Love and Combat. Thanks to the playwright's brilliant and often scathing script (as well as the remarkably sensitive staging by Torange Yeghiazarian), the opening scene of El Guindi's provocative dramedy starts off like a rocket and never loses its momentum or ability to surprise the audience. Plays like this -- blessed with scripts that can frame emotional conflicts with clarity and let their characters deliver clashing sociopolitical viewpoints with no holds barred -- are a very rare phenomenon.
Our Enemies begins in a television studio, where bestselling author Mohsen (Kunal Prasad) is waiting to be interviewed by talk show host Earl Bainbridge (Dale Albright). A young man enters, explaining that his job is to apply some finishing makeup touches for the camera and, as he begins to argue with Mohsen about the way the author portrays Arab Americans in his books, the audience watches Gamal (James Asher) apply rouge to Mohsen's face to make him look like a clown and then use some lipstick to write the word "WHORE" in big letters across the author's forehead.
Gamal is a struggling Arab-American writer who hates the way authors like Mohsen have sold out to the mass media. Consumed by his rage and wounded ego, he has become so wrapped up in the politics of how Arab-Americans are portrayed that he doesn't even realize that he's been dumped by his girlfriend, Noor (Denmo Ibrahim), a novelist who is seen meeting with an editor who professes to love Noor's work (but not the novel she has submitted).
Olivia (Annemaria Rajala) insists that her publisher seeks out authors worthy of cultivation as opposed to specific manuscripts. However, the more Olivia tries to tell Noor what kind of writing she should be doing, the more it becomes obvious to Noor that Olivia wants her to conform to an editor's expectations of what an Arab-American woman should be and say, rather than letting Noor's own voice shine through her writing. Unbeknownst to Noor, Olivia and Mohsen share a friends-with-benefits relationship which has been extremely beneficial to Mohsen as an author.
When Olivia invites Noor to a cocktail party, she asks Mohsen to attend as well. Although he quickly becomes argumentative and condescending, he soon learns that Noor has no problem standing up for herself. Nor does she need liquor to unleash her emotions. Noor knows exactly how to use her extensive vocabulary in a way that can that can slice an overbearing male chauvinist to shreds. If she so desires, she also knows how to treat a man as a sex object by humping and dumping him in the same way men often treat women.
Meanwhile, Gamal has been stalking Sheikh Alfani (Munaf Alsafi), the leader of a local mosque who is a frequent guest on Earl Bainbridge's show. Not knowing how or when to shut up, he keeps trying to goad the Sheikh into an argument despite the older man's polite requests to meet the following day because his wife is waiting for him at home. In a moment of rising anger, Gamal takes the cake he had purchased to help celebrate Noor's birthday and shoves it in the Sheikh's face just as the older man's son, Hani (Salim Razawi), arrives on the scene and is horrified by what he sees.
Before Hani departs on a long-awaited visit to Cairo, he shares a poignant farewell at JFK during which he insists that his father contact a friend who works as a bodyguard. In the post 9-11 world, Hani has become very worried by the death threats the Sheikh has received and the assault he witnessed when Gamal attacked his father. Meanwhile, Sheikh Alfani (who considers their immigrant family to be proud Americans) hopes that Hani's time spent in an Arab culture will soften his son's heart and remove the typical New Yorker's "Screw you" attitude from Hani's personality.
In the second act, Hani starts to find a new level of confidence while, back in Manhattan, Mohsen, Noor, and Gamal find themselves entangled in an uncomfortable love triangle. Although the two men are very full of themselves (and make it crystal clear that, in their minds, Noor is a sexual object or appendage whose feelings and thoughts are nowhere as important as their own), Noor's emotional and intellectual strengths are beautiful to witness. By the time she appears on Earl Bainbridge's show as an exciting new author, she is no longer willing to put up with any bullshit from anyone who thinks they have the right to tell her how an Arab-American woman should think or feel.
El Guindi's play is a powerful piece of political theatre brought to life by a superb ensemble through Yeghiazarian's deft stage direction. Kunal Prasad (Mohsen), James Asher (Gamal), Munaf Alsafi (Sheikh Alfani) and Salim Razawi (Hani) all delivered beautifully layered performances of men who struggle with their emotions, intellect, and a level of privilege that they are often incapable of understanding.
I have always admired Denmo Ibrahim's acting. In this play, she delivers a glowing portrait of an intelligent and confident woman who does not feel any need to compromise her standards in order to make fools feel more comfortable when confronted with her strengths. I found it especially interesting to read Ibrahim's Facebook post following the devastating results of 2016's Election Day.
“It's a heavy burden to be American today. My parents immigrated to this country in the ‘70s. We were raised Muslim because we were Egyptians, because that's where we came from. But we were also given the freedom to choose our own beliefs and practices when we were grown-ass adults because we were also Americans, because the freedom to self identify is in part why so many of our parents left their countries and came to the USA, to support, enrich and build this great country. As much as the politics of white supremacy have been part of our history, so are the values, ambitions, and work of immigrants and their kids, of every queer gender-bending artist, of same-sex marriages and all of us who ever felt on the fringe (and who choose to live right there near a body of water) who do not hide -- we don't want diversity. We want inclusion. We don't want to be recognized for our 'ethnic' contribution or celebrated for our 'articulate' notions about women's rights. This is about acceptance for our differences."
"As soon as we're done crying into our cereal, drinking too much gin and shoving candy into our face at 10 am, then we'll need to walk the talk. We will need to go first. We will need to meet a Trump supporter and learn about who they are and what they believe and what questions they have and what questions we have. This election has been devastating for many reasons, but the truth is I didn't believe this would be possible. I along with half the country and the popular vote was wrong about who would govern us, the people. Which means I am not in touch with the other part of America -- those who may judge me for my color, my religion, my name, my genitals. I am working very hard not to become the image of hate that I have seen this man embody. Instead I will be kind to myself and cry and eat my candy and then look at the stranger across the street or the person behind me in line and I will not ignore them. I will say 'Hello, hi. I don't think we've met, but I wanted to introduce myself. My name is Denmo. Who are you?'”