Stupendous show, absolutely stupendous!
Actors Rep Theatre is known for their innovation and risk-taking – they are the same group that brought us Becket’s one-mouth ‘Not I’ and those tremendous, simply tremendous, improv nights - for example – but this week they’re outdoing even themselves; They’re trying to answer the question that at least half of the world has been trying to answer since 8 November 2016, namely, WTF happened?
#WTF Happened? On the Phenomenon of Trump was written by its solitary performer Erik Abbott and directed by Christine Probst, but it’s difficult to think of it as a one-man show because six very different people come out on the bare-bones stage at the Theatre National du Luxembourg’s bar to talk to the audience about why they were Trump supporters or, in one case, a Trump tolerator.
That’s right. Abbott is channeling people who’d wear that infamous red baseball cap with pride, giving them the chance to tell us why they think the 45th President of the United States is going to Make America Great Again.
Before this cast came out one by one on the nearly bare stage, the mood was set by huge slides showing a billowing Stars and Stripes and then a succession of photos showing Americans of all backgrounds, races, ages and genders enthusiastically rallying for Donald Trump while the patriotic strains of ‘I’m proud to be an American’ filled the room.
It had an impact – the people in the photos could have been anyone. They could have been a coal miner, a business owner, a congresswoman, the guy down the street, a Christian or a conspiracy theorist, and those are exactly the people Abbott brought out on stage, bringing them to life with as little costuming required as a backwards-facing ball cap or a string of pearls. What made them believable was not only Abbott’s abilities as an actor to nail their mannerisms and copy their accents and speech patterns, but his abilities as a writer to tell their stories with honesty and compassion, to help his audience stop judging and start understanding.
“Maybe we can understand each other if we listen to each other a little more,” says the first of Abbott’s cast of characters, The Coal Miner. And that’s the point of this 80-minute production, to encourage people to stop with the seething rage already, with the name-calling, the divisiveness. Yet blind love can be as dangerous as blind hate, as some of Abbott’s portrayals suggest.
Others of his characters, which were largely based on interviews with real people, admit that the POTUS might just be flawed, but as The Christian said with Bible-thumping enthusiasm, God’s not finished with Donald Trump, and He’s not finished with any of the rest of us either. Well, Amen to that, and bless Actors Rep for putting on a stupendous, absolutely terrific show yet again. Praise be to Christine Probst too, for helping Abbott to take a much shorter piece originally written for the Theatre d’Esch and create a performance as solid and stout as these characters believe their own moral stances to be.
This performance makes you laugh, wince, pray (wait for it!) and most importantly, think. But did Abbott succeed in answering the question he posed? Yes. You might take from this performance that the Phenomenon of Trump happened because people felt dissatisfied, frightened, threatened, loyal, because they longed for simpler times when it seems to them that people shared noble values, when things were black and white instead of 50 shades of grey. But there are always questions beneath the questions, and maybe we will never be able to understand the times we are living in without the sharper lens of passing time.
Or maybe that’s a load of Cofeve. Go find out for yourself, by seeing this production at the TNL, on nightly through 23 September at 20:00 and on at 17:00 on 24 September. See www.luxembourgtickets.lu or tel: 470895-1 for tickets, and for more information on Actors’ Rep and their fall line-up and classes, see www.actorsrep.lu