Towards the beginning of Mark Whitney’s one man show, Rightful Masters, Whitney says something that explains his entire performance in five words: “This is really a presentation…”
And despite the show’s billing as “A Legal Mystery Solved!”, that’s exactly what it is — a one-hour talk on the evils of war and the dangers of a public that does nothing, punctuated by pictures and video of news events, old television show clips, and quotations by people ranging from Abraham Lincoln to Colin Powell.
His exposition is dense and quick, as Whitney pushes to stay within his one-hour limit, so a lot of the details aren’t able to fully sink in. But then, Whitney is so intense and there are so many facts, quotes, figures, and commentary, that there is no mistaking his message.
If there is a crux to his speech, it’s how American Presidents and Congress have disregarded the Constitution, slowly eroding the founding document to allow them to kill, most-recently aided by Congress’ Sept. 11, 2001 public law to allow the president to use any necessary force against those behind the attacks.
Whitney argues that the law served as the permission slip for President George W. Bush to begin the war in Afghanistan, and it allowed Barack Obama to kill Osama Bin Laden and order the drone-attack on al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki, an American, in Yemen last year.
“What this law says is that the president can kill you!” Whitney says to a rapt audience. “The president is George Zimmerman”.
And that’s about the time that Whitney passes out ballots for a referendum to repeal the public law, which the audience will vote on and turn in at the end of the show. However far from using the ballot as a way to engage the audience, the voting, which Whitney tracks on his website, just seems to serve the purpose of showing that his audience is aligned with his thesis.
His comparisons between Bush Jr. and Obama are sure to offend liberals, and given his left-leaning audience, it’s where his argument is most powerful. He compares the two presidents, both Harvard graduates — one clumsy, one sophisticated — but both similar when it comes to military action. Vermont, where Whitney is from, is especially singled out: “When George W. was president, we wouldn’t shut up about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights… but the problem isn’t that Vermont is silent, it’s that per capita, it gives more money to Obama than any other state.”
The large amount of information Whitney shares results in parts that cry out for editing, as well as aspects that need greater explanation. For example, the title of the show is drawn from President Lincoln’s first inaugural address where Lincoln says that his “rightful masters” are the American public. Throughout his talk, Whitney sets up President Lincoln as the model for constitutionality and level-headedness compared to successors like Presidents John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton.
Yet Whitney points out early on that while Lincoln cited the Constitution 32 times in his first inaugural, his second inaugural had no mention of the constitution and Lincoln mentioned ‘war’ 12 times. “War gets the better of us,” is all Whitney says to that.
While many of the images and videos Whitney presents are arresting, the way he’s chosen to present them (he controls the multimedia and selects them as he talks) combined with Whitney’s information-packed harangue make Rightful Masters seem more like a glorified power point presentation at an anti-war rally than an truly effective piece of dramatic art.
Rightful Masters has 6 shows, ending July 28, 2012 at Studio Theatre’s Milton Theatre, 1501 14th St NW, Washington, DC.
Details and tickets
Lisa rates this 3 out of a possible 5.