Reviews ...

"A new war, anyone?" jars Melrose audience

 ... Stringer Jackie Wattenburg turns Whitehouse inside out

by SilverStringer Don Norris

The President and Mrs. Bush -- in reality, Marcy Holbrook and Joe Turner.

Most of us were skeptical. At the SilverStringers, for example, we all know that Jackie Wattenburg is a rabblerouser for the anti-war movement, and that most everything she submits goes into the "Social and Political" section.

And when she wrote a script about the war in Iraq -- Bush's war, she says -- we thought, oh oh, more of the same.

Not true. Not true at all. Ella Letterie and I went to the show, and at first I was laughing at the antics of Joe Turner who plays George W. Bush. We laughed and laughed, and it was refreshing, but one soon realizes that the audience is deeply in sympathy with Ms. Wattenburg's anti-war campaign. Every one of us, it appears.

Tim O'Leary is Donald Rumsfeld; Phil Pendleton is Paul Wolfowitz.

She calls her new play, "A New War, Anyone?" There is no make-up, few costumes, no scenery. And it is held in the basement of the Unitarian-Universalist church, on a late Sunday afternoon.

Before the evening was out, however, these same folks who were laughing at the opening skits were struggling to hold back tears of grief, of passion, of an over-whelming feeling for the millions of people that have died in the little wars and the big ones. All during our lifetime.

The villain of the show wasn't George W. as much as it was the people surrounding him. Suddenly Melrose's Tim O'Leary became a ranting Rumsfeld, Jim Sullivan was a rambling Dick Cheney, and Phil Pendleton (Beethoven Society) became a sputtering Paul Wolfowitz. They were hilarious in their characterizations, but one soon realized that Ms Wattenburg was giving us a history lesson. Here were the villains, on stage.

The Prez and his Veep, played by Jim Sullivan.

The bad guys included Bill Mastroianni as Richard Perle, John Raymond as Elliott Abrams, Wayne Leslie as William Kristol and Dan Franklin as Karl Rove. If you don't recognize some of those names, I'm not surprised -- but Jackie Wattenburg has done her homework, and she included them as the White House insiders.

Victoria Bond played Condoleezza Rice, who carried her dodgem answers during a press interview to extremes, a master piece of mimicry. Offsetting the supercilliousness of Condolezza was the super serious reporter Helen Thomas, played exactly by Cynthia Fisk. The irony of the situation almost overwhelmed the comedy, but not quite.

As in a parody, Ms Wattenberg leaped upon every idiosynracy that President George W. Bush displays in his public appearances, then magnified them all night long to make her political points: First, all wars are bad and most are shams; two, the current inner advisors in the White House toyed with their rightwing boss until they convinced him he was right: A Little War Is GOOD! In short, the advisors in her play were pulling the strings. Powerful stuff, if one can take it seriously. And finally, there is a potential for gross profit motive in war, if one picks the right adversary. It is good for the economy, assuming you will win.

Keep in mind that the entire production is amateur, and that all actors carried a script. Even so, it came off well, once the audience gathered that this was the norm for the night.

Melrose's Marcy Holbrook took the part of Laura Bush, used in tonight's play to accent her husband's quirky mannerisms. She was delightful. Jay Libby took the part of befuddled Al Gore, who had a couple of choice comments about Mr. Bush's brother Jeb, and the supposed manipulation that swung Florida and the country to the far right by virtue of a few lost votes.

Damon Harrison, a black man, did a super conscience-stricken Colin Powell, struggling with himself over the way things were going, behind-stage. It was a small serious segment in the parody, and Mr. Harrison made his point well.

The time-line of Ms Wattenburg's play dealt with the election of George W., and the subsequent manipulations of the team of advisors leading to an attack on Iraq. Not much was made of the fact that no WMDs were found, for emphasis was more down to earth -- the results of war, the death and mayhem of both soldiers and civilians. At one scene, a couple whose son has died in Iraq were getting ready to attend a military homage; the wife rebels and screams that her son did NOT die for his country, he died because of Bush's War. The husband goes to the service, the wife makes a tearful stand. It is a small part of this two-and-a-half hour play, but it touched hearts.

An Iraqi doctor -- George Capaccio -- walks to the stage, and turns to address the audience. No comedy here, for he tells of the long line of dead soldiers from the first Iraq War, then speaks of the massacre of civilians by bombs and missiles in the second. He is near tears as he walks back to his imaginary OR.

He is followed by an Iraqi citizen, played by Melrose activist Phil Kukura, who has memorized his page of dialog. He tells how his family died, his little six-year-old daughter was blown apart, his wife killed in the bombing. He is so much into the part, the accent, the impact of his message that tears appear as he relates his story directly into the MTV camera. It is the most dramatic point of the play.

By the last act, all laughter is gone, and people are telling themselves, "That son of a bitch". The stage -- really the front of the meeting room at the Unitarian-Universalist Church -- is suddenly cluttered with dead, young soldiers. We wonder why these young people are lying down, but soon realize, as they arise to tell how they met their end in one of America's on-going wars. There were ghosts from WWII (the good war), to Korea, to Beirut, Panama, Nicaragua, Viet Nam, the first Iraq War, Afganistan and the second Iraq War.

Each of them read off the statistics of his or her war, the numbers of soldiers who died on each side, the number of civilians who died as collateral -- literally millions upon millions, we realize, within modern history, since 1940.

And in the end, the insiders are back on stage, planning the next step, among the dead soldiers.

There were about 60 folks in the audience that evening, and most stayed the whole two and a half hours. It was a tad long, but it certainly made its point. In that time, we laughed heartily, and finished with a large lump in the throat. The unanswered questions arises: How can we Americans condone such behavior?


The passage of time is presented by CCN television newsman, Vinny Ularich -- believable and well done.

The play began -- and ended -- with a haunting lament, sung acappella by Karen Fleischer.

Members of the cast included Joe Turner, Marcy Holbrook, Tim O'Leary, Jim Sullivan, Phil Pendleton, Bill Mastroianni, John Raymond, Wayne Leslie, Dan Franklin, Victoria Bond, Jay Libby, Damon Harrison, Josh Shortlidge, Karen Lynch, Vinny Ularich, Cynthia Fisk, George Capaccio and Phil Kurura.

The soldiers included Skye DiFranza, Michael Handelman, Eric Lambiasa, Rocky Shorlidge, Alex Nauda, Evan Dick, Vanessa Roma, and Josh Shortlidge. The play was written and directed by Jackie Wattenburg, assisted by Marcy Holbrook.

July 2, 2004

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