I’d never been to the HERE Arts Center before I saw Life After Bush; as soon as I walked in, I felt like I had suddenly wandered into a different century. New York City, fostering an artists’ colony? In 2008? Surely you must be joking!
The shock was fitting, as both the politics and the art of Life After Bush were very much throwbacks. The play’s creators, Noah Diamond, Amanda Sisk, and their Nero Fiddled theater company, are not above straight-out Bush-bashing, and their frankness would make more modest political playwrights blush. The two writer/directors have realized that depicting Bush as an idiot, his future Presidential Library as the Death Star, or the Supreme Court as picking away at Roe v. Wade doesn’t automatically discredit the intelligence of a work of art. This is the kind of blunt-object theater that American culture and media has shied away from, but that still thrives overseas. What Life After Bush shows is that there’s still a place for bluntness in American political culture (and not just on The Daily Show either).
But just because Life After Bush is obtuse doesn't mean that it's stupid. If anything, Life After Bush may be too smart. With political reference points, cultural memes, and brilliant linguistic wordplay coming at machine-gun speed, an audience can be forgiven for missing more references than they catch (but blessed be those who got the joke of a broken down John McCain calling Sarah Palin a “snow cunt.”) Life After Bush is the first play I’ve seen in a long time that effectively used absurd political humor as a weapon and not a crutch. The play is not whiny, it’s not tasteless, and it’s not even all that extremist (well, maybe a little).
What particularly impressed me about Life After Bush is how the play took a far-left political attack—a format straight out of the culture wars—and brought it into an era that, like Nero Fiddled’s main superdude Barack Obama, is pushing to move past the political conflicts of the past 40-odd years. Life After Bush mixes intelligent rhetoric with jokes about Bush’s affinity for Cadbury Creme Eggs, songs about triangulation with songs depicting Hillary Clinton as a tragic Evita Perón (“Don’t cry for me, Appalachia!”). The HERE Arts Center is planning an election bash as the play’s last hurrah. Contrary to what I expected when I first heard of the bash, I can see Life After Bush making fine use of whatever events come that night (though it may complicate things if McCain starts winning).
My one major complaint about Life After Bush is that, as sharp as its political slant remained throughout the evening, the play’s sense of theatricality was maddeningly inconsistent. The play featured occasional touches of meta-theatricality, and every time I saw one I kept waiting to see another sign. Life After Bush would turn far more heads if it used its own theatricality to make light of the theatricality of election cycles. The play that we do get always seems like a play and never like a lecture, but at many points it seemed like there was no consistent directorial vision for what exactly was supposed to be going on. Diamond and Sisk may have gotten a little caught up in their political motivations, and as a result, partially overlooked their much more essential theatrical responsibilities.
This kind of politics-first approach to political theater is exactly the kind of thing that politically-minded theater artists try to avoid like the plague. Yet Life After Bush is too intelligently written and cleverly constructed for that problem to seem all that egregious. Realizing that over 95% of the people who would attend an off-off-Broadway show in Soho would be liberal anyway, Diamond and Sisk accepted the fact that they’d be preaching to the choir and went with it. They’ve crafted an inspired, enlightening play out of that honesty. This kind of attitude towards theater will not expire on November 4, 2008. With any luck, it may even ripen.
Life After Bush, written, composed, produced and directed by Noah Diamond and Amanda Sisk; musical direction and arrangements by DJ Thacker; lighting design by Christopher Brown; sound design by Matthew Tennie; accompanied by David Hancock Turner. Photos by Tom Hubben and Tor-Evert Johansen
Starring Tarik Davis, Noah Diamond, Brian Louis Hoffman, Sadrina Johnson, Kim Moscaritolo, Avi Phillips, and Amanda Sisk.
Life After Bush is performed on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 7 PM at the HERE Arts Center (145 Sixth Avenue). Tickets can be purchaed at HERE.org. The show runs through November 2, plus a special election night show beginning at 6 PM on November 4.