"The focus of the play is on the concierge and his simple deference toward Bush. There are even hints of a religious parable and a suggestion that we revere our leaders instead of holding them accountable. As staged by Paul Meshejian, the play, produced originally in Philadelphia by the InterAct Theater Company, offers up the ex-president as the man we saw in public: no more, no less. That may be true, and even insightful (although I doubt it), but it isn’t very interesting to watch."
Ben Brantley's review of Enron:
"Yet even with a well-drilled cast that includes bright Broadway headliners like Norbert Leo Butz and Marin Mazzie, the realization sets in early that this British-born exploration of smoke-and-mirror financial practices isn’t much more than smoke and mirrors itself. “Enron” is fast-paced, flamboyant and, despite the head-clogging intricacy of its business mathematics, lucid to the point of simple-mindedness. But as was true of the company of this play’s title, the energy generated here often feels factitious, all show (or show and tell) and little substance."Obviously, these are two different reviews of very different writer's takes on very different productions. I am, though, acutely aware of critical responses to political theater these days. What's interesting is that American playwrights are often whipped for not producing work that is suitably politically challenging or relevant (Enron was famously imported from London); but it's rare for me to see a political play praised in the press anyhow. Even Tony Kusher's most recent work seems more focused on interpersonal relationships, the politics of the household, that on National Themes. The notices in Minneapolis were lukewarm...we'll see how it is received when it hits NYC.
So...what are the standards for what is successful political theater and why aren't we hitting those standards? Lee Blessing's play seems like a modest character study and "liberal fantasy" - but wouldn't The Crucible be accused of being "liberal?" How can a political play be dismissed for having a point of view? Isn't that the whole reason to write a political play?
On the other hand, with Enron, in an effort to turn a story about financial fraud into something theatrical, it seems that the production went all out with intriguing staging. The result? All flash, no substance was the review. Almost too easy a critique? Maybe not if it's true.
Either way... there's a long tradition of great political discourse being carried out on stage. Brecht and Ionesco and Arthur Miller and Shaw and Ibsen. Social commentary. Political diatribes. But would Ibsen's An Enemy of the People be called liberal or conservative? Clearly there's a crusading 'Michael Moore' at the center of the play, but then he sets forth a belief that a majority is always wrong. Is that Democratic?
Those plays that strike out against fascism... they resonated far more during the rise of Nazism than, say, they might now that everyone who disagrees with you is a "fascist."
So... what is the astute and successful model for political theater now? Obviously, one of the reasons it interests me is because That Old Soft Shoe is an attempt to write political theater for today. I am the worst judge of how successful it is. I hope it has been. I believe so. But, like all writers, it would be hard for me to explain exactly why.
Have you seen contemporary political theater that made an impact with you? Is there such a thing these days?