Theatre

The hope of something better

d'Lëtzebuerger Land du 29.09.2017

Hope is what unites five of the six monologues that make up #WTF Happened? On the Phenomenon of Trump. It is a solo piece written by Erik Abbott, who was also on stage. Christine Probst directed this Actors Rep production, which has six Trump supporters tell their story. As you entered the TNL lobby space, you faced an almost bare stage behind which fluttered an American flag. There was but a chair and a small table, yet the crucial piece of furniture was the folding screen offstage, behind which Abbot swiftly changed character.

The most moving portrait was the very first one. A third-generation coal miner apologises for being less articulate, less at ease than the others. He is clearly reluctant to describe what actually happened to him and to his community: “I did love it when I still had a job.” The sentence falls like a bombshell in the middle of his address. He talks about those that lost their homes, those that gave up and are on drugs now or dead… Trump is his last hope, a politician who will make his life great again!

Then there is the brash businessman who speaks in clichés and eerily looks like the President himself in his red baseball cap! The body language tells it all. America will be great again once regulations and taxes are cut and the economy picks up. Then “the market can help the poor help themselves,” he claims.

A flowery scarf, a pearl necklace and a walking stick turn Abbott into a Republican Congresswoman who, like the first talking head, is proud of her heritage. Nostalgia rules. She clearly represents the Washington Establishment, which Trump was so dismissive of during his campaign. We sense her bemusement and her pain. Still, she wants the new administration to succeed and puts national unity first.

“Hey! How you’re doin’?” The Guy Down the Street turns out to be the most bigoted of the characters. At times his views echo those of the Conspiracy Theorist, who chooses to stand as far away from the audience as possible, raging and raving about the world and its cabals. Once America was the shining city on the hill, but then the government put fluoride in the water to control people’s minds, and Obama and Hilary created the Islamic State… Once more, Trump becomes the saviour figure that can lead the country out of the darkness.

A highlight of the evening was Abbott as The Christian, a born-again preacher for whom the President represents a new dawn. He may be a flawed man who is boastful and bullies people, but God will turn him into a man on a mission. All we need to do is pray for Mr Trump, pray so that he will respect women more and be led “away from the awful temptation of Twitter”. Amen.

The evening moved seamlessly. Topical soundtracks smoothed the transition between the various monologues. Personalities were carefully drawn and more than convincingly brought to life. Facial expression, accent and body posture became Abbott’s key tools. Moods changed along the way as characters dropped their masks. All in all, a very enjoyable night at the theatre that made you laugh out loud at times, but, above all, had you think about the uncertain times we are facing and the scary theories some people spin in their heads. Suddenly words like “community” and “truth” have a rather hollow ring!

Though Trump hires and fires the way he once did on television, his core supporters keep loving him. He may mock and injure at will. They still want him to run the show.

WTF Happened? On the Phenomenon of Trump was at the Théâtre National from September 20 to 24 (for information on future productions go to
www.ActorsRep.lu)

Janine Goedert
© 2017 d’Lëtzebuerger Land