So, Friday started two weeks of interesting, provocative, and surprising theater in NYC. The Present Theatre Company is hosting the annual Fringe NYC. I'll be seeing a number of plays over the next two weeks. Since many of these plays are experimental & edgy, sometimes they don't work. Frankly, it's what I love best about Fringe--it's a total indulgence in the intellectualism of theatre. So, I've decided that I will only write about plays I really like. I am totally sympathetic to writers, directors, and actors who take a chance on something that doesn't work & I don't want to "bash" them because I admire their willingness to take chances. So, only "must see" recommendations will follow over the next two weeks. First up: Hillary Agonistes. It's already been sold out twice, so get your tickets early! HILLARY AGONISTES Playwrights' Arena in Association with Frantic Redhead Productions Writer: Nick Salamone Director: Jon Lawrence Rivera Spring 2009. Hillary in the White House. 65 million people disappear. Is the Rapture upon us? Pat Robertson, Stephen Hawking, Chelsea and the Antichrist weigh in. Can Madame President avert Armageddon. Starring Priscilla Barnes as Mrs. Clinton. Hillary Agonistes is what I would call a perfect Fringe NYC production. It's politically edgy, timely, and provocative. It's what I go to Fringe for (and why I avoid Broadway like the plague). Hillary Agonistes was very well written. Salamone pulled together a tight script with interesting twists and challenges. Borrowing from the literary tradition of Milton's Samson Agonistes (and followed by Eliot's Sweeney Agonistes and Wills' Nixon Agonistes), the premise is that early into her first term in office, Hillary Clinton wakes up to find that 60 million people have disappeared. Inexplicably. What follows is an exploration of how to explain the inexplicable. It's about the tenuousness of reality and the everyday dominant portrayal of something called "truth" that is often more fabricated that real. This play is why I like to teach political literature; it's always timely and comments on the contemporary moment. Good political literature leaves the reader/viewer with questions both philosophical and practical. And, while the contemporary moment may dissipate, meaning that the particular piece (in this case a play) won't always be relevant, that's okay. Our society isn't static and our art shouldn't be either. This piece speaks to our current cultural crisis. We don't actually know how to talk about difference and everyone envelops themselves in a coat of "truth" that shields them from hearing or talking to or understanding other people. Hillary Clinton's fierce intellectualism makes her the ideal protagonist for this play: leading the country towards "truth" in a time of confusion and mystery. If there's going to be one overwhelming criticism of this play, it will be that it's didactic. And, that's kind of its genius. Salamone embedded in the play the exact kind of arguments that people use everyday, thus didactically exposing didacticism. It's an interesting move. Salamone's play is essentially a meditation on religious difference and the ways in which the United States is often consumed by a hegemonic Christian fundamentalism that doesn't accurately represent the national religious picture. Cameos, (all played by Salamone himself) from Pat Robertson to Stephen Hawking to Mike Bloomberg, all present opportunities for Salamone to explore the ways in which institutions from science to religion to economics all seek to use their institutions to explain the disappearances. And, of course, since it's a play, it's not all about the writing. Salamone's performance is brilliant. He plays a general, Mike Bloomberg, Stephen Hawking, Pat Robertson, and a cardinal from the Vatican, among others. His transformation of each character is fantastic. It's the kind of breadth and depth you want from an actor. Priscilla Barnes, Rebecca Metz, and Jean Gilpin all give solid performances that make the entire show a delight to watch. They work well together--really comfortable in their roles, in their transitions and in their lines. This show is a real treat and I can't recommend it highly enough. If you're in the NYC area in the next two weeks, this is a must see.