BWW Review: HARD RAIN: A THEATRICAL PROTEST Presents Thoughts on the Election

BWW Review: HARD RAIN: A THEATRICAL PROTEST Presents Thoughts on the Election
Photo by Darcy Scanlin

The U.S.A.'s most recent election cycle unequivocally reminded conservatives and liberals alike that government is a high-stakes theatrical circus that never sleeps. Whether silent, lurking in the background of the complacent consciousness, or loud and proud in social media and the press, politics is consistently a pungent, sweaty cheese of conflict perfect for dramatization because the outcomes of elections (and dramatic works about elections) affect more than the featured governmental figureheads-they affect entire populations. Public policy and culture are invariably intertwined, so theater about the political machine is a ready forum for exploring humanity.

Hard Rain: A Theatrical Protest offered a workshop view of six new dramatic renderings of the American experience in this time of political turbulence. Commissioned and curated by John Blondell, this festival included short works inspired by the recent election. These early drafts functioned well as "think" pieces, and represented raw, immediate reactions to the cultures clashes lately highlighted by the presidential election.


Game Four by Kristin Idaszak
Directed by Joyelle Ball
Featuring: Anna Telfer, Chris Wastaffe

Game Four takes place in a Chicago sports bar during this year's world series. It's an autobiographical play that ostensibly makes a stand against ingrained misogyny. The Idaszack proxy (Anna Telfer) meets a guy (Chris Wagstaffe) in the bar who says she seems like a nice girl. Telfer's character is offended by the word "girl," and welcomes the gent to refer to her in terms more favorable. The theme continues, and Telfer's character encounters a flurry of men who consistently step into the line of PC fire.

Game Four features several interesting concepts, but this early draft will benefit from narrative refinement for these ideas to work more efficiently. The current emanation of the protagonist is equally defensive and offensive as a fish out of water (she's an educated, left-coast liberal amidst the drunken revelry of a working-class bar during a high-stakes athletic tournament) who takes umbrage at even well-intentioned comments. It's difficult to tell if the play is condemning misogyny or oversensitivity. A more (or less) egregious inciting incident would set the tone more clearly. It would also clarify the choice for one man to play all the male characters, both well intentioned and idiotic. There's smart commentary there, but it needs to be streamlined.

BWW Review: HARD RAIN: A THEATRICAL PROTEST Presents Thoughts on the Election
Photo: Darcy Scanlin

The Rise and Fall of Donna Twomp by David Glazebrook
Directed by Amy Sizer
Featuring: LaRose Washington, Portia Juliette

The Rise and Fall of Donna Twomp is a vignette that separates the circumstances of Trump's birth from his behavior. Glazebrook's alternate reality features Donna Twomp, an African-American female who speaks in Trumpisms, wears an over-opulent fur coat, aggressively ogles men, and flirts with foreign powers--until she's assassinated. It's an interesting concept, and there's much potential in this promising seed of a play about the privilege of rich and powerful American men.

Skin and Bone by Lindsey Twigg
Directed by Casey Caldwell
Featuring: Marie Ponce, Danielle Draper, Tom Hinshaw, Stephanie Farnum

Twigg applies her stylish, poetic metaphors to the confusion and conflict of race politics in a multicultural community. Fraternal twin daughters (Ponce and Draper) of a Latina mother and a Caucasian father (Tom Hinshaw) discuss guilt and regret over their diverging views of their ancestry. While the sisters grow from the same roots, their skin color brings them differing life experiences. One sister resembles her father, and one sister resembles her mother--each sister's experience of community and belonging is directly affected by whether they are perceived as Caucasian or Latina. Delicate and expressive, Skin and Bone shows America's discomfort with true racial and cultural integration--even within family units.

A Night at the Electoral College by Michael Bernard
Directed by Annie Torsiglieri
Featuring: Vicki Finlayson, Michael Bernard, Brian Harwell, William Blondell

BWW Review: HARD RAIN: A THEATRICAL PROTEST Presents Thoughts on the Election
Photo: Darcy Scanlin

Bernard's take on the election madness is presented in an homage to talented lampooners, the Marx Brothers, who made their careers pointing a comic finger at the savagery of high society. "Trump," the smart-mouthed Groucho (Bernard) swaggers into power flanked by Steve Bannon/Harpo Marx (Blondell) and Mike Pence/Chico Marx (Harwell). In a spot-on sendup of the Marx Brothers' wacky comedic style, the new American regime (literally) tears apart the constitution. Malcolm Gladwell says that satire allows a less limited availability to express unsettling truths and critical opinions about society. "That's where truth is spoken to power," he said in a Revisionist History episode entitled "The Satire Paradox". In this post-truth age, the comics and the satirists will have the truest voices in bringing opposing viewpoints to light under the guise of comedy--seen in good example with this piece.

The Ribbon by Annie Torsiglieri
Directed by John Blondell
Featuring: Risa Brainin, Christina McCarthy, Laezer Schlomkowitz

Written for the Elements Theater Collective's "Play in a Day" 24-hour play festival, The Ribbon depicts the cyclical nature of history. When the mayor of an unspecified town (Schlomkowitz) enters his office wearing a sash of honor, his staff (Brainin and McCarthy) is proud and curious. The award, they discover, was given for honorable participation in a think tank-type panel in which local leaders discuss what to do about the docked boat full of refugees in the region's harbor. Without specifying where the refugees are from or where they seek asylum, the play reminds us that there is no easy answer for large populations of displaced peoples; yet the economic and social complications of accepting refugees doesn't change the fact the they still wait, hopefully, desperately, just offshore. By the end of the play the refugees are named as Jews fleeing Hitler's occupation, but this situation is recognizable as a problem both historical and contemporary.

Bruise by Diana Lynn Small
Directed by Rose Elfman
Featuring: Jenna Scanlon, Leila Sadr, Nina Sallinen, Lindsey Twigg

I enjoy Ms. Small's work--both Good Day and Mad and a Goat were surreal and sophisticated looks at the perverse sides of ambition and loss. In Bruise (called a "puppet" play), Jenna Scanlon narrates the inquisitive and ferocious actions of three entity characters without language, who react in an animalistic manner when they happen upon a crate of oranges. They play with the oranges, and then use the oranges as weapons, gaining frenzy, until one is left lifeless.

While this protest essentially preached to the choir in that it was presented to like-minded individuals within the arts community, Blondell's protest is potent, considering his position as an academic leader at a college that perpetuates conservative values and ideologies. Witnessed by the various tribes of the Santa Barbara arts community, the production began with Jim Connolly performing "Hey Volcano," a song he wrote about anger, and ended with the Kacey Link accompanying Alexander Hudson singing "I'm Here" from The Color Purple, a song about strength in the face of disappointment and heartbreak. Hard Rain was an exciting theatrical event for the Santa Barbara Community, one that promoted new work in a collective exhale of distaste for elements of the cultural pendulum swung far right, and a forum for dramatic experimentation fueled by the call to action.

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