Theatergoers from the Washington, DC area are no strangers to American political history, but few of us know about the despicable, yet true, events on which HUNT is based. I’m fascinated by Congress, where I have spent most of my career, and knew I could bring a nuanced understanding of the Senate to creating this play.
When I wrote HUNT: A Political Drama, I had no idea that the rise of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate and the horrific massacre in Orlando would make HUNT so relevant. These events underscore the enduring nature of the themes of the play: the dangers of political extremism, demagoguery, and the manipulation of our fears for partisan advantage.
I wanted to explore these themes through the story of the blackmail of Senator Lester Hunt over homosexual allegations against his son during the Cold War era. It was a time when the world was painted in white and black – the U.S. and democracy versus the Soviet Union and communism – and that fed a fear of subversives of all kinds.
By the early 1950s, Senator Joe McCarthy and his allies in Congress had gained strong popular support by manipulating these fears. People they accused of being communists or homosexuals were portrayed as dangers to our national security and the American way of life. Thousands of McCarthy’s victims lost their jobs, and an unknown number are thought to have committed suicide.
It is hard to hear today, but homosexuals at that time were routinely called “perverts” and “deviates” in official government documents, Congressional reports, and major newspapers. Criminal prosecution of people charged with homosexual acts became widespread. The shame associated with homosexuality triggered the blackmail of Senator Hunt by some of the most powerful members of the Senate.
Despite this disgraceful episode’s fatal consequences and its warning for us today, few people remember Senator Hunt. I believe knowing the truth from the past is essential to understanding our own time, and how we can work for a better future. It’s time for this story to be heard.
Jean P. Bordewich has spent her life in and around politics, on Capitol Hill as a Senate and House staff member and in New York’s Hudson Valley as a town council member, candidate for Congress and Senate district staffer. HUNT is her second play produced at the DC Capital Fringe Festival. She started researching HUNT when, as staff director of the Senate Rules Committee, her office was across the hall from the suite that once belonged to Senator Hunt. Information: www.huntsenateplay.com
July 7 — July 24, 2016
Flashpoint: Mead Theatre Lab
916 G Street NW
Washington, DC, 20001
Show details and tickets