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BWW Interview: A Return 30 Years in the Making - KLEPTOCRACY's Candy Buckley

BWW Interview: A Return 30 Years in the Making - KLEPTOCRACY's Candy Buckley

More than three decades have passed since Candy Buckley was last seen at Arena Stage with 1987's All the King's Men. When she returns next week in Kenneth Lin's new play Kleptocracy at Arena Stage, she'll once again find herself immersed in the political world. This time though, the politician at the heart of the play is still very much in power and is still, very much, consuming official Washington's focus.

"Kleptocracy is set in the not-too-distant past. It tells the story (loosely) of Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his relationship with Putin and with the U.S.," says Candy Buckley who plays the aptly-named character 'White House Official.'

The character's name itself seems to suggest a certain mysterious authority. Buckley, who workshopped Kleptocracy last fall in New York before coming with it to Arena, describes her as bold.

"She's the only American in the play. And my director [Jackson Gay] suggested I play her as though she's from Texas which gives me a lot more kick. Texas size is a good match for Russian size and allows for more color and humor," says Buckley.

It seems only appropriate that Buckley return to Arena in another political play. "Playing Sadie in All the King's Men here at Arena, with music by Randy Newman, is one of my top five professional experiences," says Buckley.

Although controversial leaders often find a way to the stage, think Eva Peron in Evita or Richard Nixon in Frost/Nixon, it is rare that they do so while still in power. Having performed in All the King's Men and now Kleptocracy, Buckley is well-suited to answer the question of why politics is such a good fit for the stage.

"Yeah, it's [All the King's Men] the story of Huey P. Long in Louisiana -- and you don't get much funkier than Louisiana in the U.S. Kleptocracy is the story of wild Russia, and you don't get much funkier than that," says Buckley. "High stakes, high drama, with a lot of wild cards thrown in."

Arena audiences are certainly no stranger to political dramas. This is the company after all who reexamined the legacy of Lyndon Johnson with their recent productions of All the Way and The Great Society, and who poignantly revisited the landmark 1978 diplomatic agreement between Israel and Egypt with Lawrence Wright's play Camp David.

In Kleptocracy, however, there is the added variable of Vladimir Putin. Knowing that the mere mention of his name arouses strong passions, and is also at the heart of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, what does Buckley say to those theatergoers hesitant to see the play because they think it is going to make a political statement?

"This is not a Rachel Maddow tutorial. Moments in the play may get audiences thinking about what's going on today but the links aren't direct. Kleptocracy is provocative, but it's not a morality play. There's no hero," says Buckley.

There are still added challenges, and some benefits, to performing a play like Kleptocracy, which is based off of real events and people, in a town like DC which is packed with geopolitical experts and political junkies.

"Character names and situations in Kleptocracy are familiar enough for audiences to be able to hook in and go 'ah, yes!' but the writer has really taken artistic license," says Buckley. "The play does not have a documentary feel. For example, my scene with Putin is in an outrageous setting!"

For Buckley, Arena's production will not only mark Kleptocracy's world premiere, but the chance to return to, "One of the most prestigious repertory theaters in America." It also gives audiences the chance to immerse themselves into a world of political intrigue.

"When I go to the theater I want to be able to take the ride," says Buckley. "And I want the theater experience to be visceral -- all of us in one room -- like an experience you get going to an athletic event at a stadium -- or at an Arena! Fancy that."

Kleptocracy runs from January 18 thru February 24 at Arena Stage -1101 Sixth Street Southwest, Washington, D.C. For tickets please call (202) 488-3300 or please click here.

Photo: Candy Buckley. Credit: Arena Stage.

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From This Author Benjamin Tomchik