Wednesday, July 16, 2008

ATW Review - Bush Faces Big Questions, Camus in Cutting, Comical The Strangerer

A name and phrase that seem mutually exclusive are: "George W. Bush" and "existential crisis." Yet, in The Strangerer, the incisive and hilarious play from Chicago's Theater Oobleck that's currently running at the Barrow Street Theatre in Greenwich Village, playwright Mickle Maher imagines President Bush spiraling through questions of moral accountability and existence at a 2004 presidential debate with John Kerry.

Guy Massey and Colm O'Reilly in The Strangerer
Guy Massey and Colm O'Reilly in The Strangerer
Photo: Kristin Basta

Mickle uses the historical record as the springboard for the play. In 2006, President Bush's summer reading list included Albert Camus' "The Stranger," and in Maher's world, a senseless act of violence, similar to the one committed in Camus' classic is on the agenda. Elements of the book – such as the protagonist's dead mother who holds incredible sway over him – spring up in "Strangerer." And, it's impossible not to laugh as Bush describes how his mother, dead for a day, or perhaps months, lying in a coffin back at the hotel nearly prevented him from going to the theater the night before the debate.

It was at the previous evening's performance (or "theatricalization" as Bush calls it in one of the many adroit malapropisms Maher gives this Bush) that the plan to commit murder at the debate first occurred to him. Comically, it would seem that Kerry, who in Maher's world suffers from bizarrely funny narcolepsy, agreed to help the president in his plans, but has forgotten. Thus, it's up to Bush to carry out the plan – which in its senseless certainly leads theatergoers to think of other events from the past eight years – even as he ponders, often at wearying length, larger philosophical questions. During the middle of "Strangerer," his ramblings take their toll on the audience, but the play and production eventually right themselves – after Bush has revealed the play that has inspired him.

Working without a director (as in all Oobleck productions), the three-person ensemble delivers some fine performances on a recreation of a utilitarian college stage. Playwright Maher provides the scenic design, and he also plays the dimly distant Kerry, who's sucked into the unexpected debate about life, death, murder and art. Colm O'Reilly provides a droll and apt impersonation of moderator (or "modulator" as Bush would have it) Jim Lehrer. Guy Massey's indefatigable performance, and often scarily on-target impersonation, as Bush, generates the most sparks. It's a zestful and intelligent comic turn that sticks with theatergoers well after The Strangerer has ended.

---- Andy Propst


The Strangerer continues through August 17 at Barrow Street Theatre (27 Barrow Street). Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 and Sunday at 2:30 and 7:30. Tickets are $25.00 and can be purchased by calling 212-239-6200 or by visiting Further information is available online at

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