‘Tis the season of weird politics in America, with two presidential candidates whom nobody seems to love and a country divided into red and blue with almost no white to be found.
If you have an ounce of sense – right wing or liberal – you almost have to laugh at what this country seems to have become. The arguments seem so vicious over the petty and the insignificant. How in the world could all of the television news channels be so wrapped up in a decades old Miss Universe who put on some pounds after she ate more than she should? And this argument is going to help us choose a president?
The beauty queen kerfuffle is an apt moment in time for "The Taming" to open its run at Next Act Theatre. The play, by Lauren Gunderson, had its very first production three years ago in Seattle, yet having seen it this weekend, I can’t believe it wasn’t written last week.
At the heart of the story is Miss Georgia (Bree Beelow), competing at the Miss America pageant, confident of victory and full of detailed plans to use her title to rewrite the Constitution of the United States. She is a woman filled with disgust over the entrenched partisanship that has just about brought the country to a standstill.
The night before the pageant, she gives roofies to the two targets she needs to make her dreams come true. One is Patricia (Marti Gobel), the top aide to a conservative senator and a woman who, dressed in three-piece suit and tie, fancies herself as the brains and strength behind the poor bumbling senator.
"I do not mean that I want the senator to read it," she shouts to an intern. "He doesn’t do things like reading. I do things like reading. In fact, assume that I do everything but blink for that man, including and with my bare hands, picking up his heavy Republican feet and walking them into the Oval Office."
The other personality dragged into this threesome is Bianca (Sara Zientek), the semi-dowdy icon of the far left of the political spectrum. She is the fearsome warrior for all of her causes and doesn’t even want to consider anything else.
"People have the right to know that there are jerks out there," she posts on social media. "Even some senators in this room who would rather destroy America than admit they’re wrong. Which is why some social media soldiers like myself will be forced to take them down in a spectacular and dangerously brief fashion, tonight."
Bianca and Pat wake up in the morning in the same bed, with the same hangovers and the same wonder about what in the world happened to them the night before. They are without phones, Pat is without pants and Bianca is without a way to contact her two million followers.
They spend moments figuring out where each stands and follow that with the kind of stereotypical debate you might see with a bunch of talking heads on a cable television network.
Enter Miss Georgia, and we are off and running with a display of hostility that is full of as many laughs that can be wrung out of political discord. Think "Saturday Night Live" on steroids. This is as funny as it gets.
The second act puts Miss Georgia as George Washington, Patricia becomes James Madison and Bianca is Charles Pinckney, a member of the constitutional convention from South Carolina.
In an interview about her play, Gunderson explained the use of her comedy in a world of political dysfunction.
"What’s happening in American politics, there is no center, just extreme viewpoints, and that’s not productive," she said. "I suppose, like the jesters of old, I’m using my comedy to speak truth to power in a way that helps and entertains my audience."
David Cecsarini, artistic director at Next Act and the director of this particular production, has, as always, staged a play that gets every laugh there is to get and delivers a powerful message at the same time.
Gobel, one of the finest in this state, has an absolutely impeccable sense of comedic timing. She sets a high bar for her fellow actors every time she takes the stage.
Zientek is up to the task as she continues her string of outstanding performances. She is cute, funny and has a chameleon-like ability to turn from one original character to another, all to the delight of the audience.
Beelow is all sugar and spice as the beauty queen and the father of our country. She’s both prim and passionate and gives a character who could be superficial some real depth.
Watching this play, I was struck with how stereotypical the arguments were. For a moment, I thought this whole thing was unoriginal. But then the clarity hit and I realized that the characters and arguments were meant to be stereotypical of the kind of ridiculous and absurd stuff we ordinary citizens have to put up with every day.
"The Taming" runs through Oct. 23 and information on showtimes and tickets is available here.
Production Credits: Director, David Cecsarini; Scenic Design, Rick Rasmussen; Lighting Design, Aaron Sherkow; Costume Design, Jason Orlenko; Properties Design, Heidi Salter and Shannon Sloan-Spice; Sound Design, David Cecsarini; Stage Manager, Jessica Connelly.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
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Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.