Good Stuff

By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  October 16, 2007
irst of all, the infuriating and sometimes darkly comical statements of the responsible politicians have their own edifying lives, apart from any performers. More importantly, 25 young actors, not supplemented by gray-hairs from an open audition, do quite a good job.
 
As you might not expect from such a dour subject, there is also humor. Hare is quite aware that exasperation sometimes leads to mad laughter, so he has us enjoy George W. leading his staff, thumbs in belts, in a line dance rendition of “I Don’t Want to See a Smoking Gun In the Shape of a Mushroom Cloud.”
 
Although most of this 2-1/2-hour quasi-docudrama is taken from released transcripts of government meetings, in scenes when officials are talking one-on-one or are in informal circumstances, the dialogue is the playwright’s invention. That’s how we get the priceless characterizing touch of Dick Cheney announcing, when a family group rises to go to the dining room, “I could eat a baby through the bars of a crib!”
 
Since this is all essentially a true-life account and not a parody, too much humor could interfere with or trivialize the truthfulness. But under the pitch perfect direction of Christian Wittwer — whose scenic design, but not directing, we’re accustomed to at the University of Rhode Island and elsewhere — the tone is always appropriate.
 
At least as much credit for maintaining a balance of humor and seriousness goes to Tyler Fischer as George W. Bush. Without overdoing it, he has Dubya down cold. He doesn’t try for the 5’11” height (a wise acting choice), but he has the smirk down pat as well as the tittering vocal mannerism. Best of all, without inflating Bush into a caricature, Fischer conveys his swaggering self-confidence, the all-hat-and-no-cattle impression he makes when trying to explain himself. As a bonus, Fischer is a chillingly spooky look-alike of the college-age Bush. I mean, uncanny. (No offense to his mama, but did she frequent Texas bars or wild fraternity reunion parties there about 20 years ago?)
 
Chillingly, from a campaign speech when he was first running for president and from later quotations, Hare has Bush make his case for the Divine Right of Presidents. Because he found God, “I am in the Oval Office rather than a bar in Texas,” he declares. “God wants me to do it,” he says of his war decisions. There is no “Gott Mit Uns” sampler in the Oval Office, but maybe that’s because he’s still working on English.
 
Stuff was written by a Brit, so you know that Tony Blair gets a lot of lines, many of them expressing exasperation over Washington’s double dealings. Kevin Broccoli nails more than the accent (although his aide annoyingly speaks mid-Atlantic). There are too many good performances to note here, but a few actors are especially skillful in roles the play relies on. Benjamin A. Gracia conveys the controlled frustration of Secretary of State Colin Powell, making an eventual outburst with Condoleezza Rice (Ama Appiah) especially effective. Jamie Dufault gives nuance and keen intelligence to French Prime Minister Dominique De Villepin, who outfoxes Powell. As a female narrator, Emily Reese has a knowing presence, PBS rather than CNN. Other major characters include Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, played by Benjamin Roads and Nevan Richard as an evil, interchangeable Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
 
Scenic design in the high-ceilinged Studio J aims to impress us with scale, as governments do. Good use is made of a multiple-image screen, especially at the end, when the occupation of Iraq is brought home. The sound design of Peter E. Nabut effectively simulates the shock and awe of the Baghdad bombings, with flashing lights and seat-rattling booms from a powerful sound system. One more touch well done.
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