BY TONY WEST/Â Last week, Philadelphia was treated to a rare display of political theater.
In a playhouse, I mean.
A remarkable project by a local director, Cara Blouin, put on two hours of conservative-themed drama at Plays & Players Theatre on Delancey Place for three evenings. Ten playlets by different authors, using different directors, engaged a cast of 21 performers in what was billed as â€œThe Republican Theater Festival.â€
The variety was intriguing. Some were boffo skits worthy of â€œSaturday Night Liveâ€™sâ€ finest hours, like Community College of Philadelphia playwright Quinn Eliâ€™s Running Amok, a hilarious study of a Black pro footballerâ€™s slip into a sex scandal and his white agentâ€™s patronizing attempts to cover it up.
Some were clever expositions of complex economic issues, like Walt Vailâ€™s Downsizing, which took a hard look at quality in manufacturing â€“ and caught viewersâ€™ attention with a surprise plot twist.
Some were subtle, disturbing pieces without a clear message â€“ but with the power to send chills down your back in a way that was, yes, somehow rightwing. That was the case in Propaganda by Mike Long, which featured a violent showdown between an American linguistics professor who teaches manipulative political speech and a revolutionary from a Mideast country whose tongue had been cut out by her own side â€“ a deed for which the professor may, or may not, have been responsible.
Impressive was the overall high quality of both the writing and the performances. It testified to Blouinâ€™s meticulous professionalism in organizing the project.
â€œWe started to work on this very early in the year,â€ explained Blouin. â€œWe put out calls for conservative-themed material early in the summer. By summerâ€™s end, we had 110 submissions.â€ Itâ€™s no wonder, then, the 10 she chose were so good.
For funding, Blouin turned to Kickstarter, an online forum for creative projects. It worked. â€œWe had 400 donors,â€ she said. â€œMost of the support came from the theater community, but we had Republican support as well.â€
The project stirred deep emotions in the artists who collaborated on it. The theatrical world tends be liberal. â€œSome of the cast had a hard time with their roles,â€ admitted Blouin. â€œItâ€™s always difficult to get in the shoes of someone who was ideologically different.â€
For others, though, it was a rare opportunity to tell an audience what they really think. Some conservative actors â€œwere really happy not to be in the closet,â€ she said. â€œThey enjoyed the chance to talk with the playwrights.â€
One of the playwrights whose work was, in the end, not accepted, started an online forum where discussions got hairy at times. On the job, though, Blouin was â€œdelighted by the respect with which everyone treated each other.â€
Coming just a week after the Nov. 6 election, the Republican Theater Festival gave local GOP diehards something to cheer about at last. Quite a few of them turned out for an evening of their own theater.
Ward Leader Mike Cibik, who chairs the Philadelphia Republican Leadership Council, hailed Blouinâ€™s production, adding, â€œShe, personally, feels the brunt of being a traditional-values woman who is immersed in a world where leftist views are fed to and digested without question, by the vast majority of her peers. By producing this event she demonstrates a courageous behavior.â€
Plays & Players Theater staged this show as part of a yearlong series, â€œThe American Presidency: A Theatrical Responseâ€. Later this season, it will produce a play about Andrew Jackson.