The Strangerer is a strange mash-up of the first 2004 Bush/Kerry debate, and elements from Albert Camus' similarly-named novel, The Stranger. The result is creepy and ominous, and funny, too. But it is also overindulgent, and a bit too deliberately paced.
By Amanda Cooper
In 2006, The Stranger ended up on George W. Bush's summer reading list. In 2008, playwright Mickle Maher, inspired by the image of Bush reading about a man's odd ambivalence toward his senseless act of murdering a stranger, responded with a play. The Strangerer is a strange mash-up of the first 2004 Bush/Kerry debate and elements from Camus' novel. The result is creepy and ominous, and funny, too. But it is also overindulgent, and a bit too deliberately paced.
In an effort not to give anything away, suffice it to say Bush adopts and vocalizes many of the intellectual troubles and actions of Camus' main character. Though the debate structure is kept throughout the play, and even in the candidates' manner of speaking, hardly any discussion of moderator Lehrer's questions happen--instead the two respond to each other, and to their passing thoughts. Bush is portrayed here as especially self-indulgent, as he clearly attempts to work out recent personal crises on the stage.
Writer Maher has also designed the set: a straight-ahead, appropriately staid debate stage, with two back-set podiums and a moderator's desk at front. The 95-minute show simply contains these three historically accurate characters: George W. Bush (Guy Massey), moderator Jim Lehrer (Colm O'Reilly) and John Kerry (Maher, the wearer of many hats for this production). The three performers work hard throughout the evening, embracing their characters' known quirks and habits, while still making their interpretations of these three their own. There's Kerry, with his statuesque posturing, directly clashing with Bush's blinking discomfort.
Provocative messages are at work: the "theater" of our political system, the way our news media can be manipulated by politicians, the odd reasoning that may be a part of a criminal's mind… The Strangerer hits all this well. But a debate is inherently anti-climactic and singularly paced. And despite Maher's searing insights as playwright, the format is structurally rigid, holding the play at too consistent a speed, at times taking more time than necessary to make a point.
At The Barrow Street Theater
All tickets $30
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