By Edward Rubin
pre and post-COVID-19-slanted offering much peppered with condemnation of Trump
and the current administration – was presented one time only this past
September--was HBO’s Coastal
Elites. Originally written to be performed as a play at New
York City’s Public Theater by playwright, and novelist Paul Rudnick, widely
known for his humorous and satirical writings which regularly appear in the New
Yorker, and directed by Matthew Jay Roach (“Meet
the Fockers,” “Trumbo,” “Bombshell”). The closing of all theaters
in the city nixed that idea.
we get five fictional monologues, each one running 15 to 20 minutes, all but
one filmed in a single take. The actors, sitting in their own space-- behind a
desk, in a TV studio, or in their own apartment – all looking directly at the
camera - deliver their story, each from a different perspective. One is seen
talking to a policeman, another to his therapist, a third to her TV audience,
and two, presumably to us.
of five segments is titled and dated as to the month in which they are taking
place. And each is introduced, even before they begin their monologues, with
chanting in the background and the familiar sound bites of Trump, Pence, and
Coastal Elites kicks off during the rolling of the film’s credits with
various possible subtitles being flashed across the screen. First up is “five
heart-tugging monologues.” Quickly morphing into “five unhinged rants,” and
“five desperate confessions", it ends up reading, “Five desperate
confessions from people barely coping with the new abnormal,” a more
appropriate title, given that the characters are frightened, confused, and
infuriated by the current state of politics, culture, and the pandemic.
to tell her January-dated, pre-quarantine story titled “Lock Her Up” is Bette
Elites’s major calling card. Her monologue, with a hefty
serving of self-aware humor, (compliments of Paul Rudnick), is frantically
delivered in near-screaming decibels.
before Midler dons her role as Miriam Nessler, a left-leaning, Trump-hating,
New York City liberal Jewish retired school teacher, we hear crowds chanting in
the background, “Lock Her Up, Lock Her Up, Lock Her Up.”
unlikely and fantastical as Miriam’s story is, it does cover, perhaps even sums
up, from every from conceivable angle, all of the worries and concerns of the general
public, as well as those of the four story-telling monologists that follow.
is telling her story to a seemingly sympathetic officer at the police station
where she ended up after snatching a MAGA hat from a total stranger in
Starbucks. Yes, he did file a police report. Asking the officer, whom we never
see, in near-begging tones to “Please listen to me so you will understand,” she
begins to weave a tale that encompasses everything and the kitchen sink,
including her current addiction to collecting tote bags.
of Miriam’s anger, as in Midler’s real-life rants, is directed towards Trump,
whom she insists on referring to as HE or HIM. “I am a New Yorker and we always
hated Trump. It’s not just the hair and the lying. HE has no style, no sense of
humor. HE tore down Bonwit Teller’s in the middle of the night. HE wouldn’t
rent to black people.”
during the Nixon and Roy Cohen days, I didn’t go to bed in a rage and panic
attack. I didn’t spend the day in anger and dread, and I didn’t hate the other
people, those people from Nebraska and Ohio and Alabama. We didn’t hate them.
That’s what HE did. Maybe we weren’t buddies but we didn’t despise them. That’s
what HE did.”
her explosive rant, an unbowed and refortified Miriam informs the officer and
audience alike that, “we are Fighting that guy, fighting all the bastards. We
want our country back and we are going to March and sign petitions and register
people to vote.” As for the MAGA hat incident, unwavering in her intentions,
she unabashedly declares that she would do it again.
the beginning of segment two, dated March and titled “Super Gay,” before Dan
Levy (“Schitt’s Creek”) an out gay actor, takes the stage, we hear Vice
President Pence, in a snippet taken from a speech he is giving talking about
marriage “…that institution that forms the background of our society’s
traditional marriage.” It is lost on nobody that Pence, a rabid, long-time
antigay crusader who co-sponsored a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution
(2004) that would define marriage as solely between one man and one woman, is
implying that marriage between man and man, and woman with woman is unnatural,
“It isn’t our idea. It is God’s idea” he states.
Levy himself, the character Mark is an out gay actor living in Los Angeles.
Though he does allude to Pence’s homophobia in passing, Mark’s major concern
which he is addressing to his therapist via video, involves a series of
auditions for a starring role as a superhero in a major film. It is a chance of
a lifetime and he is worrying as to how he should play it. Should he show his
gay face, or should he play it straight? All of which leads him to thinking
about his gay identity and the various compromises he is and isn’t willing to
The Blond Cloud, segment three, takes place during the month of June.
Before jumping to Issa Rae playing Callie, an African American and former
boarding school classmate of Ivanka Trump, we meet Ivanka on the campaign trail
where she is heard assuring her father’s supporters that Trump “…not only has
the strength to be the next president but all the kindness and compassion.”
echoes of Black Life Matters, as protests against police brutality are going on
outside Callie’s window, “The Blond Cloud” (as Callie refers to Ivanka), is an
evisceration of Ivanka who not so surprisingly turns out to be every bit as
politically minded as her father. Obviously, it runs in the family.
story, being told to a friend via video chat, begins with her running into
Ivanka at a White House dinner for Trump’s monied supporters where she is dragged
by her billionaire father who not coincidentally heads his own stock brokerage.
Seizing the moment, Ivanka, who has not seen Callie in years, playing the old
friend game, ushers her up to the Lincoln Bedroom. Her stated intent is to
enlist Callie’s help in rebranding her image among the African-American
community. Though this story is strictly fanciful, it is entirely plausible
which makes this gossipy tale all the more compelling.
down, “Because I Have To Tell Somebody,” starring Sarah Paulson, segment four,
filmed in May, is the funniest – think “Saturday Night Live” – of all of
Rudnick penned monologues, that is until the second half does an about turn and
shows us what a dyed-in-the-wool Trump-loving family living in the heartland
might looks like.
past a clatter of voices yelling “Four More Years of Trump,” Paulson playing
Clarissa, a seemingly spaced-out new-age guru with her own cable TV show (or is
it on YouTube?) is seen giving one of her mediation sessions. Her stone-faced
delivery, backed by calming music and bucolic images of trees, valleys, lakes,
and fields of wheat and flowers, leads to Coastal Elites’s funniest string of
know you’re scared” Clarissa begins. “Enlightened words will soothe you or at
least allow you to watch CNN without screaming at your partner. I’d like you to
close your eyes and envision a hillside lush with wildflowers and overlooking a
peaceable and tranquil valley. You’re like Julie Andrews singing “The Sound of
Music” with her arms opened wide and never dreaming that she would be
trafficked by the Catholic Church in becoming an unpaid nanny under a Nazi
regime and ultimately marring an employer twice her age, a scenario that can be
rightly termed Edelweiss Me2 hashtag none of my favorite things and soon gone
breaking down, Clarissa, interrupting her own show, leaves the set, only
returning to tell the story of her recent visit to her family, all wearing MAGA
hats when she arrives. Worse, any anti-Trump mentions are dismissed as Fake
News by her mother. The only saving grace, after she flees the family home in
disgust, is when her father shockingly confesses at the airport, just as she is
about to board her plane back to Vermont, that it was Trump’s trashing of John
McCain, a secret he tells Clarissa to keep from the family, that will be
costing the president his vote.
Miriam USA,” the last and most emotionally moving monologue, far less driven by
the personal ego-spurred concerns of the four preceding monologists, takes
place at the height of the coronavirus during the month of April. Here we meet
Sharynn, a young volunteer nurse who comes to New York City from Wyoming to
work at Mount Sinai hospital.
all the other monologues, this one is preceded by a string of outrageous
claims, in this case from Trump who is heard telling his listeners that he is a
stable genius, and that he alone is going to make America Great Again.
Referring to the virus which he contends will soon disappear, he tells us that
Fauci has been wrong, and that the first thing we have to do (presumably
Trump’s idea of a cure) “is to “hit the body with a powerful light.”
course, Sharynn finds Mount Sinai hospital speaking otherwise. It is “surreal.”
People are dying in droves. The halls are filled with the sick waiting for an
available room. Refrigerated trucks to hold the mounting dead are parked
outside the hospital, and four nurses have come down with the virus. “We’re all
just trying to hold it together, she Sharynn says “cause that is what we’re
taught at nursing school. Do the job, and provide comfort. “
story, beautifully told by Kaitlyn Dever, begins after one of Sharynn’s
grueling 14-hour shifts at the hospital. Still wearing her hospital scrubs, her
RN photo ID, and her face mask dangling from her right ear, she sits down at
her kitchen table. It is obvious that she is tired, overwhelmed, and has a
deeply felt need to tell us her story, the gist of which centers around Miriam
and an elderly female patient she befriends. A tough dyed-in-the-wool Democrat
with plenty of wise and sassy sayings, Miriam quickly becomes Sharynn’s touchstone,
“the only thing, that is keeping her going.”
fate would have it, after a touch and go recovery, just as Miriam is deemed
well enough to be discharged from the hospital, she is felled by a stroke.
Devastated that she was not with Miriam during her last minutes, Sharynn is
heartbroken. It is a sad, take no prisoners, ending. However, as Sharynn tells
us earlier, “If you start crying, you’ll never stop.”