Coming soon to West End and Broadway stages: Rex Tillerson, Jeff Sessions, Tom Price and Scott Pruitt
Four key players in President Donald Trump’s new administration are central characters in a “verbatim play,” boiled down from combative U.S. Senate confirmation hearings, that looks to Trump’s Cabinet picks for clues to his government’s direction.
“All the President’s Men?” – the question mark sets it apart from the famous Watergate expose – is being presented as a staged reading Monday at London’s Vaudeville Theatre. It will play New York’s Town Hall theater on May 11 with a U.S. cast reported to include some famous names.
The play is among the first trickle of what will soon be a flood of artistic responses to Trump’s election.
An HBO miniseries about the 2016 election is in the works, while British writer Howard Jacobsen turned his shock at the outcome into a just-published satirical novel. Robert Schenkkan’s play “Building the Wall,” which imagines Trump’s presidency taking a darkly authoritarian turn, is in the midst of an acclaimed run in Los Angeles and next goes to New York for an off-Broadway run in May.
Also planned for Broadway are a pair of starkly political works – a revival of Henrik Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People,” about a well-intentioned whistleblower eventually branded a traitor, will be produced during the 2017-18 season, and a stage version of George Orwell’s nightmarish “1984” is scheduled to open in June at the Hudson Theatre.
Nicholas Kent, who has created and directed “All the President’s Men?” said he wanted to understand what Trump, the ultimate outsider politician, actually stands for.
“We’d heard all this rhetoric about “draining the swamp,’” he said. “I thought the best way of finding out about the whole philosophy behind the Trump presidency would be to look at the Senate confirmation hearings. Because the beliefs of the people involved would come out of that, and their backgrounds would come out.”
Kent, former artistic director of London’s Tricycle Theatre, has overseen fact-based plays on subjects including England’s 2011 riots (“The Riots”), the U.S.-led war on terror (“Guantanamo – Honor Bound to Defend Freedom”) and Afghanistan’s history of conflict (“The Great Game”).
For his latest project, Kent watched 50 hours of Senate hearings, and admitted that “to begin with it was a little like watching paint dry.”
But he said he gradually “saw the big issues coming out. The questioners, and the questions asked, were as revealing as the answers in many ways.”
The four candidates were little known to most Americans. There was Tillerson, the ex-oil company boss who is now at the helm of U.S. foreign policy as secretary of state; Sessions, a longtime Republican senator who is now attorney general; Obamacare critic Price, the health secretary; and climate-change skeptic Pruitt, now in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency.
“I chose particularly these four people because they represent in many ways the nub of how America will be governed for the next four years,” Kent said.
“I’m trying to look for the central essence of each of the characters. I’m not trying to do a satirical portrait in any way whatsoever. I’m trying to look at their beliefs.”
The play is backed by Britain’s National Theatre and New York’s Public Theater. In London, it is performed by a cast of West End veterans including Peter Davison, Sian Phillips, Phil Davis and Sinead Cusack. For the New York performance, Kent said “they’ve promised me a very starry cast.”
Kent says the president himself appears in the play only through “a few tweets.”
“It’s the administration that’s going to make the man, as we’ve already seen,” Kent said, noting that two of Trump’s flagship promises – to halt travel from countries deemed epicenters of terrorism and to dismantle Obamacare – have been stymied by courts and Congress.
“He can be a figurehead and he can tweet till kingdom come,” Kent said. But “it is actually the machinery of government and the people under him, who are going to carry out his policies, that are the most interesting.”