I saw a pair of overtly political plays this last week (and passed up the opportunity to see several others). The two plays are wildly different in style, one serious and one comic, one traditional in form and one fooling freely with immersion and the fourth wall. But they’re equally pertinent to the political times we’re in, on the verge of what may be the most crucial midterm federal election in our history. This was the second play.
The folks who call the tune in our political conversations lately may appear to be buffoons, but they’re masters of misdirection and psychological warfare. Their serious steps toward fascism, and the snow flurry of outrages they emit to conceal each one, can make us feel exhausted and ineffective.
This affects folks who do comedy, too. Many complain that the outrages are so extreme they can’t be exaggerated; others say they can’t satirically embarrass people who have no sense of shame.
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An unnamed company of actors, led by an elusive artist who appears on the internet as “Hieronymous Bang,” have hit on a remarkably effective way out. It’s a bouillabaise of guerrilla theater, commedia dell’arte, vaudeville, immersive escape room approaches, and standup — with a bit of Brecht in the sauce. And it’s funny.
But it’s also unsettling. To start, we have only the in-your-face title — I’m Gonna K*** the President: A Federal Offense — and a phone number. No venue, no date, no headshots, no names. If we’re feeling curious (and brave), we call. We get a reservation, with instructions. Be on a dark corner, at a certain hour.
By the time we reach the makeshift theater, we’ve been assaulted by suspicion — unknown people challenge us, and we feel unsure whom to trust, unsure of ourselves. This evokes the darker realities of our public life, and the discomfort lingers. But now we’re on folding chairs, facing sheets hung over clotheslines, and a musician is playing a brief pre-show. We’re pretty sure we know where we are.
I will not describe — or even outline — the show/story that unspools itself jauntily before us. I will say that it manages to touch on very many elements of our civic winter of discontent, always with sharp accuracy and mordant humor, within a tale of misadventure that would be taut if it weren’t also comic. (Whoever this “Hieronymous” is, he’s a hell of a writer — the humor is “Bang” on.)
K*** the President is also cathartic (hello, Aristotle). Not only the laughter but also the audience’s active role releases the tension in the story and the world of creeping paranoia it evokes. Taking part in the zany drama, we feel a healing that’s been denied us by the surveillance state and our own self-censorship.
I’d praise artists by name, but names are redacted — blacked out — in the program. The pair playing Skip and Fifi, our leads on this merry chase, are clear and focused; they create characters — and grow a relationship — we believe in, despite all the theatrical alienation going on. The actor who plays The Man exudes menace and wit in equal measure, and delivers a bravura solo quartet (you have to be there). The others — playing Bess, Graciela, Hippie and Chet as well as smaller roles — are energetic and intelligent, and always serve the story.
You will not leave K*** the President entirely comforted. But you will, thanks to the daring humor and your being a part of it, feel a bit stronger, readier to step forward and take your part in rescuing and reshaping our communal life.
K*** the President is a fugitive production, arising here and there around LA in the next several weeks. Your only point of access to this truly remarkable piece of theatre, which brings release and healing in a perilous time, is to find it on the internet — or call the phone number. Find it, and step into it. You’ll be amused, bemused, a bit confused perhaps, and amazed.
I’m Gonna K*** the President, written and directed by “Hieronymous Bang.”
Presented by [NAME REDACTED], at various locations around Los Angeles.
Saturdays at 8:00, Sundays at 7:00,
through Nov. 18.
Tickets: (209) 375-0411.