Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Review of Chimera Ensemble's The Totalitarians

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Totalitarians. It was by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, and it was directed by Scott Westerman. It was about a woman named Francine (Vered Hankin) who was a campaign manager for Penelope Easter (Rachel Slavick) who was running for office in Nebraska. Francine's husband Jeffrey (Brian Sheridan) is a doctor and has a patient named Ben (David Lovejoy) who convinces him to come to a park with him to talk about this conspiracy theory he has about Penelope Easter: that she is going to turn the government into a totalitarian regime. It is about politics, conspiracy theories, and how terrible people are. A lot of people already know there is a lot about the government that is corrupt, but they show it to you in this show in an exaggerated way.

Each act opens with one or two men talking through a kazoo and they are wearing black hoodies and masks over their faces. They are saying stuff through the kazoos, but you can't understand what they are saying. It is pretty funny because they are clearly trying to say something important, but you can't understand them. Also, Ben would start coughing and then apologize through the kazoo for the coughing, which is funny to me. They are trying to seem mysterious and scary, but they come off as harmless and silly because they are apologizing through a kazoo. You do find out later that one of them is actually capable of killing people, and it makes you see these scenes as more menacing.

I like when plays have women in power in them and this play certainly did do that. People listen to Penelope and she is trying to get power and is very forceful about it. Francine is using her speechwriting skills to get Penelope power and also to boost her own career. She uses key words like freedom, so people will say, "That's exactly what I want!" without the speechwriter or candidate actually saying anything. But just because these characters had power, that didn't mean they used their power for good or anything that didn't seem purely self-centered. I think the play is saying that these particular women get their power by telling people what they want to hear, even if what they are saying doesn't really make sense. The men with the kazoos are like the opposite of that because they are saying something that makes sense, but no one understands them.

I think humor can be used to make points about politics, but the humor in this show didn't always work for me because the humor sometimes seemed gross and mean. I was often too troubled to laugh, even though some other people in the audience were laughing. It doesn't seem like they want you to understand or care about the characters. The characters didn't seem to have a lot of layers. I think the point they were trying to make about the characters was that everyone is basically terrible. I think that is a valid point to make, but I didn't really enjoy watching it be made. I enjoy seeing more into why people are doing things, even if I don't agree with what they are doing. I think even if villains aren't doing the right thing, it doesn't mean they don't have interesting stories. I also like to see features on characters that are something you can identify with. I like it when plays offer explanations and explorations rather than just criticizing.

People who would like this show are people who like nonsensical speeches, gross humor, and kazoo apologies. This show was funny at points to me and it had some good performances. I think the play has important things to say about politics, they just didn't always do that in the ways I prefer.

Photos: Justin Miller

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