On the eve of the Republican National Convention, as hurricane Gustav was bearing down on Louisiana, and word got out in St. Paul that CNN’s Anderson Cooper had grabbed his rain slicker and fled to New Orleans, it was beginning to look as if hosting the GOP convention wasn’t going to be any fun at all. But that didn’t stop The Wide Stance Political Theater Comedy Collective—an ad-hoc group of local actors and writers who evidently couldn’t bear to watch Jon Stewart get all the good lines—from having a little fun of their own at the Playwrights’ Center.
It only ran for three nights, but the collective’s production, The Wide Stance: A Theatrical Essay on the Two-Party System, was a hilariously subversive piece of guerrilla theater that lampooned just about everything in the two-party system, exposing the idiocy of our political rituals in ways that only sharp, stinging satire can. Smartly written by local playwrights Tom Poole and Joseph Scrimshaw, The Wide Stance was ad-hoc, low-budget, what-the-hell theater at its best—just the sort of thing that would never appear on television, because the truth would hurt too much.
The show starts with the scene of a man with a bomb strapped to his chest and a gun in his hand who is threatening to kill his wife if he doesn’t get universal healthcare NOW! The scene ends, the actors take their bow, and from there the play goes “interactive.” An audience member jumps up and objects to the brevity of the show, another audience member objects to the objection, then the two form opposing political parties that appeal to the audience for advice on how to “improve” the show. An audience “enthusiasm meter” is brought out and the audience is polled as to whether the show should be more masculine or feminine, or how many product placements it should have. Each time the audience registers its preference, the actors re-do the scene, incorporating elements the audience said it wanted to see.
The joke is that every time the audience-approved “content” is incorporated, the show gets more and more absurd. Meanwhile, a news team dedicated to covering the unfolding drama does periodic reports that incorporate input from bloggers—input that invariably involves Lindsay Lohan and strays further off-topic as the play progresses, distorting everything the actors say or do. When a “third-party” jumps into the fray to stage an “ironically non-violent coup d’etat,” the leaders of the other two parties implore the audience to continue to “work with them” to “create a better show.”
It never happens, of course, and audience members are free to interpret that sad fact any way they want. I, for one, interpreted it all to mean that America would be better off as a benevolent dictatorship run by writers and artists. But then I remembered Barack Obama’s messianic christening at Denver’s Invesco Field on Thursday night, followed by John McCain’s what-the-f*** announcement of Sarah “Who?” Palin as his vice-presidential running mate, followed by the spectacular irony of a huge hurricane pounding New Orleans on the day the RNC was scheduled to nominate John McCain for president, and the news that Sarah Palin's seventeen-year-old daughter is knocked up—and I thought no, this is a great country just the way it is. The everyday American drama is so juicy these days that it's tough for writers to keep up. One of the only things left for us to do is make fun of it, and follow Louisiana governor Bobby Jandel's sage advice: hope for the best, and prepare for the worst.