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The Trial of an American President

Mahira Kakkar, Michael Rogers, Tony Carlin Photo: Ken Nahoum



                                                        by Eugene Paul


Years after he limped out of office, George W. Bush, self designated “War” president, having launched the trillion dollar disaster our grand children will still be paying for, the Iraq War that is still churning out  human crisis after human crisis, was advised  enough time had gone by for him to make a couple of forays into public notice. Test the waters, so to speak. He has done so.  And discovered it is not. Safe. The fury has not abated. Technically, it’s safe enough, since the United States has never joined 120 other countries in forming the International Criminal Court in the Hague.  Well, not exactly. The United States was a member for a matter of weeks but  President George W. Bush somehow found the right immediately to suspend the previous Clinton administration’s signature indicating that the United States had joined as a member. So…that was that.


 He retired to Texas and took up the Texan pastime of – painting pictures. And all the righteous agita that ringed the White House in protest after protest eventually went home. Dick Tarlow, with Bill Smith, has written a “What if?” play about George W. Bush in which they imagine George Bush agreeing to stand trial in the International Criminal Court at the Hague.  He cannot bear the pain of the ignominy of the recent years.  He wishes to absolve the Bush name , he wishes to prove and attest that he was not responsible for the massive losses in lives and treasure inflicted on the United States and Iraq, and all that followed.  That follows. He may have made mistakes but that doesn’t make him a criminal.  He is innocent.


What Tarlow and Smith have proposed, in addition, is that audience members become the jury declaring his guilt or innocence. Whereupon the handsome setting designed by Ann Beyersdorfer, the careful lighting by Ben Green, the projection design by Kevan Loney projecting the video designs and editing by Philip Coccioletti, all in support of the actors, turns into something entirely different: a parlor game. Our narrator, graceful, beautifully dressed Mahira Kakkar, lays out the ground rules. We are to imagine the court of the Hague.  Imposing Michael Rogers is the encapsulation of all the prosecutors.  George Bush swears himself in as his sole witness, that he will tell the whole truth and so on and a very good Tony Carlin presents a more worried George W. Bush than you have ever seen.


Michael Rogers, Tony Carlin 


But what can the authors do?  With the help of the Prosecutor and the Narrator, they classify their accusations culled from the huge public record into separated categories which are presented as scenes.  Well and good.  But everything they do, everything they tell us, including the voice- overs of Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Laura Bush, Tony Blair, we’ve heard before.  Every actor enacting victims and victims and victims we’ve heard before, and more and more and more.


  Perhaps that’s why there are no representations of our soldiers.  We’ve seen them, again and again, alive and dead, on television, in magazines, in newspapers, we’ve heard their names read, their faces shown, over and over, thousands of them.  But none of them are here. Everything the Prosecutor and the Narrator cite, selected to focus on torture, on crimes of occupation, on Bush’s aggression, on his colloquies with his conscience, his God, is diminished, made small by the physical actualities of this little stage, these three actors, this fine, but little parlor game in which not a thing is new, because it cannot be, certainly not as presented.


 The immensity of the problems is reduced by the concept and the production. Writing lists of proven blameworthiness does not mean you’re creating drama. Curiously, the most dramatic scene is in a video of a grief stricken mother accusing the president of killing her young, innocent, patriotic son. Granted, director Stephen Eich is working with one hand tied behind his back, maybe two, and his cast give as good as he can get them to give, but he cannot encompass the huge impact of an actual trial in the Hague in these three, in spite of all the clever video projections, and certainly without the actual facts of the war machinery and its soldiers.


Yes, there is the decision of the jury of audience members.  They must cast their Guilty, not Guilty verdicts.  Handing over their little decision ballots to the Narrator is so tiny considering what we are purported to have been considering it is an anti-climax without even a climax. The verdict is announced – do they ever get a Not Guilty verdict? – and—it’s over.  No.  It hasn’t even begun.


The Trial of an American President. At the Lion, Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street.  Tickets: $51.25. 212-239-6200. 110 min. Thru Oct 15.