BY TONY WEST/ 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 “The Republican Theater Festival.”
The variety was intriguing. Some were boffo skits worthy of “Saturday Night Live’s” finest hours, like Community College of Philadelphia playwright Quinn Eli’s Running Amok, a hilarious study of a Black pro footballer’s slip into a sex scandal and his white agent’s patronizing attempts to cover it up.
Some were clever expositions of complex economic issues, like Walt Vail’s Downsizing, which took a hard look at quality in manufacturing – and caught viewers’ attention with a surprise plot twist.
Some were subtle, disturbing pieces without a clear message – 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 – 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 Blouin’s meticulous professionalism in organizing the project.
“We started to work on this very early in the year,” explained Blouin. “We put out calls for conservative-themed material early in the summer. By summer’s end, we had 110 submissions.” It’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. “We had 400 donors,” she said. “Most of the support came from the theater community, but we had Republican support as well.”
The project stirred deep emotions in the artists who collaborated on it. The theatrical world tends be liberal. “Some of the cast had a hard time with their roles,” admitted Blouin. “It’s always difficult to get in the shoes of someone who was ideologically different.”
For others, though, it was a rare opportunity to tell an audience what they really think. Some conservative actors “were really happy not to be in the closet,” she said. “They enjoyed the chance to talk with the playwrights.”
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 “delighted by the respect with which everyone treated each other.”
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 Blouin’s production, adding, “She, 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.”
Plays & Players Theater staged this show as part of a yearlong series, “The American Presidency: A Theatrical Response”. Later this season, it will produce a play about Andrew Jackson.