Written by Rich Orloff
Directed by Lynette Barkley
If the recent rash of election-year buffoonery has battered your faith in the future of political discourse, fear not. There is a readily available antidote to debate fatigue. Turn off the television and look to America’s most reliable purveyor of intelligent dialogue: the theater. Culled from dozens of interviews, Rich Orloff’s well-researched take on the battle for the national soul is well-researched, audaciously hopeful, and surprisingly entertaining.
Entrenched in the East Coast liberal culture, Orloff (Jeffrey C. Wolf) finds himself puzzled by reports of the rising political phenomenon known as the Tea Party. His friends, in typically dyspeptic New York style, revile these right wingers, even going as far as to refer to them as Nazis. But Orloff suspects his left-leaning cohorts may be too mired in their own prejudices to see things clearly. Who are the Tea Party really? What do they stand for? Determined to find out for himself, Orloff embarks on a cross-country odyssey. As it turns out, many of the preconceived notions about Tea Partiers are, indeed, invalid. Of the many party members who are willing to talk with Orloff, few are crackpots and almost none are racist (the notable exception, ironically, being the Bronx chapter). Most of them are bootstrap types who have earned rather than inherited whatever modest wealth they possess, and therefore believe in individual liberty over government intervention. The conversations are limited to politics, but what little Orloff sees of the partier’s personal lives impresses him. They speak respectfully of their spouses and appear to be loving and attentive parents to their well-behaved kids. Their arguments don’t persuade the playwright to alter his liberal positions on guns, healthcare and other key issues, but he comes to admire their sense of citizenship. They don’t sit around with a remote control in one hand and a beer in the other, complaining that things aren’t right. They get off the couch and organize. And in the age of massive national debt and Washington gridlock, who can blame them for craving lower taxes and a downsized central government?
Director Lynnette Barkley keeps the show moving briskly and makes economical use of slide projections and lighting changes to suggest myriad locales.Aided by dialect coach Page Clements, the ensemble (John E. Brady, Maribeth Graham, and Richard Kent Green), morph into a rich array of concerned Americans, each with a kind of poetry in the cadences of their speech. As the restlessly inquisitive Orloff, Wolf radiates warmth and intelligence, never arrogant or abrasive even when quoting damning statistics or asking tough questions. At times comic, often moving, CHATTING WITH THE TEA PARTY offers no solutions. But it does affirm that it is not only possible but necessary, to reach across the aisle and find common ground. If our politicians won’t do it, then we ,the people must make the first move.
CHATTING WITH THE TEA PARTY continues through February 21, 2016 at the Robert Moss Theater 440 Laffayette Street, New York, New York. Tickets http://chattingplay.bpt.me.