Life After Bush: a musical we can believe in?
Reviewed by Patrick Wood
As we near the end of this exhausting presidential election, one overflowing with a weird brew of self-parody, horror and hope that has both emboldened and wearied the staunchest cynics and most fervently faithful, it’s hard to imagine to imagine still having an appetite for a satirical musical called Life After Bush. At a time when a candidate’s early morning gaffe is circulated through Google Readers by lunchtime, played ad nauseam on the evening news and dramatized on SNL a few days later, why sit through a production wrought from the from the familiar jokes of our contemporary political battlefield?
“To promote understanding and inspire,” answers Nero Fiddled, which continues its GOP-bashing theatrics with Life After Bush. While their explanation reeks of the kind of arrogant intellectual superiority that many Red-Staters love to hate in liberals, Nero Fiddled is at least upfront about their contentment with preaching to the choir. The play’s characters, caricatures of our nation’s top political players, engage issues like Iraq and the fall of Wall Street with ironically-titled songs like “Al Qaeda in Iraq” and “Corporations Are People Too” that—with little plot to string scenes together—trace Bush’s final months in office as Obama waits in the wings. The sprawling approach yields an uneven product that’s obvious, self-righteous, funny and inspiring in drastically varying measures.
Brian Louis Hoffman renders a capable but unremarkable version of Bush, another idiot-boy in an oversize cowboy hat playing with toy soldiers. Unfortunately timed as it is, the performance proves most effective at pointing to the impressive nuances of Josh Brolin’s W., a man who, despite the disastrous effects of his insular philosophies, boldly embodies an absurd version of The Hero’s Journey. Stone proved that a staunch left-winger could portray a sympathetic, relatively balanced version of Bush without sacrificing comedy or moral outrage. It’s an example that would have benefited this production, encouraging a search for humor not in a narrow-minded take on our country’s culture wars but from the tragedy of miscommunication that infects the United States of America right now.
The play more successfully takes aim at other Republican targets. As McCain, Avi Phillips—sporting a military helmet and cotton-balled jowls—effectively wrings comedy from the candidate’s grotesque persistence in calling everyone “[his] friends." His verbal lashing of Sarah Palin, complete with a particularly creative vulgarity that potently invokes the shock value still remaining in our language’s most misogynist word, gets the biggest laugh of the show. Not restricting their criticism to Western Republicans, the writers manage to amusingly skewer Giuliani’s exploitation of 9/11 in one of the play’s most impressive musical numbers.
In requisite efforts to poke fun at the side of the aisle closer to its heart, Life After Bush misfires. Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi come across as colorless and boring. But Tarik Davis’s turn as Obama offers the otherwise smug production the engaging theatricality it needs. Clad in a skintight superhero outfit but never seeming anything less than genuinely serious, endowed with a rich baritone and an unmistakable stage presence, Davis captures the calm confidence of Obama in a way that no comedian has been able to. If the messy madness of Life After Bush doesn’t inspire as a whole, Davis’s Obama certainly does. He offers a glimpse of a presidential presence that would be nothing short of refreshing…and probably send Nero Fiddled into a welcome period of creative overhaul.
Life After Bush (90 min.; no intermission)
Here Arts Center (145 6th Ave.)
Performances: 10/31 & 11/1 @ 7 | 11/2 @ 7:30
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.