Apologies to the one Trump fan who goes to DC theatre and is reading this, but there is perhaps too much wrong, unbelievable, or historically unprecedented about The Donald’s candidacy to fit in one theatre piece.
John Krizel’s Let Trump Be Trump is DC’s theatre early bird getting the worm, and he wisely does not aim to tackle it all. If the result is a little bit less punchy and cathartically ridiculous than we might want, its unexpected take on a potential 2017 Trump Presidency is certainly welcome.
It’s also a good bit more thought-provoking than we might be comfortable with, given that it starts off by admonishing us that we “didn’t believe” Trump could actually get to the West Wing, yet here we are. (Well, actually, it starts with a selection of classic Trump Twitter moments, to remind us just what we’ve been dealing with.) Even more troubling, Kizel’s comedy-drama asks us to empathize with several members of Trump’s future White House administration.
There’s true believer James (Brendan Hunt), a holdout from the campaign; Press Secretary AJ (Kendall Helblig); Chief of Staff Gordon (Andy De), the only one with experience in federal government; and Deputy Chief of Staff Lindsay (Allison Donnelly). The man himself remains blissfully offstage.
Fans of “Veep” or “The West Wing” will recognize the setup our four Trump-administration characters are thrust into: a signature bill (in this case, the long-promised immigration ‘reform’ one, with the Mexican wall and everything) is endangered. They have to scramble to gather the public confidence, political pressure, and backroom dealing necessary to get the House votes they need, and Capitol Hill hijinks ensue.
Let Trump Be Trump
Written by John Krizel
Details and tickets
But so does, in a slow and quiet way, a little tragedy. While James is hopeless from the start, emulating his hero by objectifying his women co-workers, the other three are genuinely decent people (well, as much as you are willing to accept political insiders can be) who somehow ended up in Trump’s employ. As the prospects for the despicable legislation sink, so does Trump’s pernicious influence worm its way into their behavior. They all, eventually, have to decide not just whether to let Trump be Trump, but how much to let themselves be Trump in order to get the job done.
Is Trumpism a disease of unique origins? Is it really no different, just a little louder, than politics-as-usual? These are not pleasant questions to ponder, and you might be forgiven for not wanting to wrestle with them before the Trump candidacy’s ultimate fate is decided in November. Then again, now might be the more necessary moment to consider such nuanced queries.
The production, under Paul Lysek’s direction, is unbiased enough to let the script’s tough themes live on their own. It does not, however, cover over a few notable deficiencies, such as an unbelievable climactic reveal (how would the supposedly new information be unknown to anybody?) and a final scene that, while amusing, doesn’t live up to the probity of the rest of the story.
The whole ensemble acquits themselves admirably, letting their characters be human, bordering on likeable – Hunt manages to do so on sheer force of personality. Donnelly, meanwhile, gets the most sneakily juicy role, as she manages to make Lindsay both completely slimy and utterly idealistic simultaneously, embodying the central contradiction of the play.
If anything, this show is bogged down by not going far enough in showing the depths of Trumpism and its effect on these staffers. The human element is there, as is the ethical insight, but the flashes of acid wit Krizel shows are only frequent enough to make you wish he’d pushed it more, and the conclusion of our protagonists’ arc is thinner than the setup promised. Perhaps the Heart of Donaldness was too dark for him to peer so closely into – our loss, ultimately, as an audience wanting something harsher. But who can blame him?
Let Trump Be Trump by John Krizel . Directed by Paul Lysek . Featuring Brendan Hunt, Kendall Helblig, Alison Donnelly, Andy De, Noah Cooper-Hauser, Hilary Morrow, and Victoria Meyers . Stage Manager: Caelan Tietze . Lighting Design: Sean Forsythe . Sound Design: Jess Hoover . Reviewed by Brett Steven Abelman.