Miracle on Broadway?
"Her Opponent," a play running on Broadway in New York, sets audiences back on their heels. Since it deploys exact lifts from the presidential debates between Hillary and Donald Trump, we know the words already. We are well into the first 100 days of the new president, so that's not a surprise. And we all watched, aghast or delighted, the talking heads making mincemeat ground chuck of DJT while doing the Bambi fawn act at the fount of fabulosity over the decidedly deadweight ego-filled DuFarge of Hillz.
What transpires is a revelation, partially evoked by the clever switching of genders. The two producers, one living in Paris, one in NYC, decided to flip them.
Handsome Daryl Embry plays the Hillary character, as Jonathan Gordon. Rachel Tuggle Whorton plays Trump. She has mountains of attitude, swaggers around the stage, while her dainty, dipsy opponent jaws on and on about inconsequential Big Ideas that never left the launching pad, though they came complete with chipmunk-cheeked grins and arrogant harrumphs to share with her presumed humongous following everywhere.
Surprisingly, the Off-Bway play "Her Opponent" at the Orbach flips the genders of Hillz and Donald, using their own debate words. And something amazing occurs. Strangely, even for people who already profess a liking for the new president, "Her Opponent" is a resounding bulls-eye hit.
After the debate itself is over, the audience is left marveling at the hand gestures and body language of the participants – especially Tuggle Whorton, who commandeers the stage as a domineering bull might – that so nuancedly mimic and reproduce the gestures of their originals.
After the play was done, and the Anderson Cooper moderator stand-in, played by Andy Wagner, with more verve than demonstrated by the real Anderson Cooper, the audience got a mic, and we are able to express what we felt after seeing the two up there, weaving and bobbing, evading and colluding. About half the audience had comments, many of them quite strongly felt.
Every member of the audience who professed to loathe and detest Mr. Trump – a typical New Yorker bearded wing-nut of Resistance and hooey – turned out to reconsider the candidates in light of the flip-around. Several DNC people said they now understood why Trump won: Hillary was a wonk, boring, unfriendly, artificial. Brenda-Trump was forceful; funny; naturally engaging; and often, in retrospect about Russia, correct.
It was such a treat to walk out of a play one had feared would redouble one's sense of insular beleagueredness...and feel elated.
Like a Frank Luntz focus group, the way people came in was not the way they left. And since this was a tough NYC crowd, with but a smattering of Australians and out-of-state visitors (not many), the producers will be taking this intriguing experiment out on the road. There, they will get even more acclaim and reinforcement, I suspect.
Where a colleague had decided not to attend the play, telling me, "It sounds horrendous!," now producer Salvatore said he and co-producer Maria Guadalupe were "red-pilled" – a reference to the red and blue pills in The Matrix – and they too were turned around. They had envisioned the harder role to be that of Trump, when quite the opposite was the case. The guy doing Hillary came off like a sissy, a nerd, a jerk, stumble-wit inept who could not find his feet to answer the "What a nasty man!" interjections of the female Donald. Or her jabs of "Untrue! Untrue!" as Hillary-Gordon prated along heedlessly. Helpless to nimbly respond in kind.
Salvatore told me he had, months ago, "known" that Trump was the lesser, the stupider, of the two party leads. Now, as the rehearsals rolled on, he realized that Trump was by far smarter than the Hillary entity.
It's a simple set. And a simple principle. Watch what happens when you switch the genders: will it change your perspective?
But elemental as it appears at first, it's a wow of an experience, and actually the most fun I've had at the theater for many a moon.
At the Orbach theater, 50th & Broadway, 7 pm.