Updated: Feb 5
Hello again, it’s your friendly neighborhood theatre critic whose opinion nobody asked! Today I am joined by a snarky svelte Swede, Ottiliana Rolandsson, also with a Ph.D. in all things theatrical. We combined our wonder twin powers of dramatic commentary to bring you these, our humble observations on the 46th Presidential Inauguration, aka the Bye-Don Inauguration.
For those not in-the-know, the Inauguration is a perennial spectacle staged in Washington D.C. every four to eight years as a symbolic representation of something called a "peaceful transition of power." Apparently, it's kind of a big deal.
Coming hot on the heels of that unmitigated flop, The Attempted Coup on the Capitol, performed on January 6th and reviewed here a couple of weeks ago, The Inauguration promised to be a relatively polished, or at least coherent production. Boasting celebrity headliners, and clocking in at a budget of around 2 million dollars, it had damn well better be. Otherwise Americans might start asking why the government couldn’t afford $2,000 pandemic relief checks, and nobody can afford THAT right now.
In short, our expectations were high.
And we weren’t the only ones looking eagerly forward to this power play. World-leaders were reaching for their handkerchiefs to wipe their brows in relief... well, except for Putin and Kim Jong-un, who were wiping their brows for the opposite reason.
Though much of the symbolism was familiar--proliferation of American flags, check; uniformed military, check; tokenism, check--we did note a few alterations. For example, instead of the usual ubiquitous shaking of hands, most leaders took to fist bumping one another. Is this the new pandemic-approved greeting, or were they blatantly pandering to the Cool Kids constituency?
And then of course there was the notable absence of one of the traditional main characters: the outgoing president. Not that he was especially missed by those in attendance.
In fact, the absence of The Orange Emperor seemed to ignite a kind of “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” giddiness among the remaining players. And by cutting the played-out traditional tea ceremony from the script, preferring instead to focus on his Don Giovanni-esque list of last-minute presidential pardons, the stage crew was afforded an extra two hours of set-up time. Which was much needed given how close he was cutting it, stubbornly refusing to leave his dressing room until lured out by his in no way ironic theme music: Gloria, YMCA, and of course, My Way.
In contrast, there was a certain gravitas to this year’s addition to the episodic drama that is democracy, staged as it was against the backdrop of a pandemic and a conspiracy-feuled, thankfully-failed coup attempt. The promise of Catharsis hung in the air as the performers entered the high-security playing area, which was notably surrounded by a wall.
Intentional irony, or sheer desperation? You be the judge.
Meanwhile, since the audience had to be both severely reduced and socially distanced, rather innovatively, and frankly morbidly, the audience was replaced by flags, which in turn represented the many dead from the pandemic. This field of flags was as creepy as it was poignant, and as teenage goths at heart, we’re here for it.
We noted, however, that they did wash the blood off the steps beforehand. Which we felt was in good taste, but a bit of a missed symbolic opportunity, if we’re honest.
Conversely, while the Chekov’s Gun concept is a good dramaturgical rule to follow, we were quite relieved that the ostentatious display of guns was never actually fired.
Overall, and certainly compared to the prequel, the Inauguration did follow a fairly coherent plot with consistent, if unimaginative, themes of hope, healing, and unity. Hmmm, where have we heard that before? Oh that’s right, pretty much every campaign ever in the history of Western politics.
But honestly, what a refreshing surprise, to be bored by a totally expected and in no way batshit crazy presidential speech!
Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the USA on a bible so thick it was most certainly the director’s cut. The main event was delightfully uneventful, though we did notice it occurred a full ten minutes ahead of schedule. Was this an intentional ploy to keep the absent ex-leading man from firing off the nukes?
Melania: Oh no Donald! They are swearing in Sleepy Joe ten minutes early! Fetch the football, quick!
Donald: This loser of a button doesn’t work any more! Caddy, you're fired! Also, bring me some new batteries.
The world may never know.
The presidential pastor, Rev. Beaman, began in a hushed and solemn tone, but as the spirit moved him, his voice grew in volume, resonance, and dynamism. As musical theatre nerds, we recognize a song cue when we hear one, and got very excited for the inevitable arrival of the gospel choir behind him, hopefully in sequined church robes. But alas, none arrived. So we begrudgingly concluded he must simply have been divinely inspired by the three angels who had taken the stage before him.
The first angel took us from MAGA to Gaga in an outfit that managed to simultaneously channel Evita, The Hunger Games, and the Baroness Schraeder from The Sound of Music. Was that giant gold bird on her chest a phoenix? A fusion of the American Eagle with the Dove of Peace? Or perhaps a callback to Homer’s Odyssey, when the prodigal son returns home under the good omen of a hawk being spotted with a dove in its claws? The layers of symbolism were as impenetrable as her dress was vast. Here’s hoping she ransacked and recycled the thousands of oversized red silk ties left behind in a closet at the White House.
By the way, how many immigrant children was Gaga smuggling out of detainment under that skirt? If anyone has an exact number, we’d love to hear from you.
The second angel appeared all in white. Had J Lo and Gaga agreed on a South American theme? J Lo’s call to the Latinx crowd to get loud in a land that also belongs to them was heard as far away as her native Puerto Rico, where they are still cleaning up from hurricanes Irma and Maria, and still don’t have the right to vote in U.S. elections.
And we would be remiss not to point out the bravery of country star Garth Brooks in singing Amazing Grace at the inauguration of a president still deemed illegitimate by a sizable portion of his fanbase.
But despite the grandeur of these star-powered performances, they were immediately forgotten in the wake of the true star of the show: the youngest ever poet laureate, Amanda Gorman. This actual angel from heaven stole 100% of the show, upstaging even the most seasoned performers on the stage with a sunshiny radiance on par with Lady Liberty herself. She, too, appeared to have selected a couple of oversized red silk ties, neatly making them into a tiara to adorn her brilliant head.
Even the Greek Chorus of former presidents appeared visibly moved. Well, all except Bill Clinton, who was either taking a quick power nap or reflecting on president Biden’s speech and thinking, “Been there, done that. Good luck, Buddy.”
Meanwhile Senator Sanders looked like he, too, could use an intermission, lounging in his much-memed grumpy-old-man stance on the world's most uncomfortable folding chair, sporting oversized home-spun mittens like the glorious folk hero he is.
They say in a play there are no small parts, only small actors, but in this case it was the minor roles that really captured our attention. For example, we took special note of Eugene Goodman on the steps of the Capitol, revising his Jan 6 role of distracting attention from the real action and thereby saving lives. It’s always nice to see a solid performance rewarded with a larger role in subsequent shows, and we look forward to watching Mr. Goodman’s star rise.
Meanwhile, we were especially pleased to note that the bad actors he bravely misdirected in that shitshow were given their walking papers and are now singing in the FBI choir. Here’s hoping they can be deprogrammed from the abominable training they received on the internet. Might we recommend an immersive Meisner training course?
The wanna-be director of the aforementioned debacle, Ted Cruz, could be seen pouting in the back, appearing jealous of the overall success of this second and, if comparatively dull, much more stately show. We feared that at any moment he might start booing and throwing rotten tomatoes at the stage, but to our simultaneous relief and disappointment, he behaved himself.
By contrast, the understudy to the absent Animated Cheeto, Mike Pence, performed with a presidential demeanor that had been sorely missed in the ongoing drama of the last four years. He posed, grave and solemn, like an alabaster bust of futility made flesh. That is until his vibrant replacement, Kamala Harris, a VP of multiple firsts (female, black, South Asian, mixed race, can pull off a purple suit, comes with "second gentleman"), cracked him up as they said their goodbyes on the Capitol steps where previously Trump supporters had shouted "Hang Mike Pence!" What did she say to make him break character like that? We like to imagine it went something like this:
Kamala: Why did the chicken cross the road? To avoid invoking the 25th amendment!
We must give credit where it's due: this production managed to fulfill its traditional function while daring to break with convention and even dip its toes into experimental territory.
Candidly, we hope this trend continues, and look forward to the day when we ponder the question of how to address a first or second gentleperson who identifies as non-binary.
All in all, we agree with Shakespeare that all’s well that ends well, but remind our readers that this is, in fact, only the beginning. There is much work to be done to Make America Actually Great for All Americans. But MAAGAA doesn't fit nicely on a hat, so it probably won't catch on.
One more time, in Swedish!
Please enjoy this delightful rendition in her native Swedish by my co-author, Dr. Ottiliana Rolandsson!
Now published in the Swedish online magazine, Alba Nu!