By Drs. Adrienne MacIain and Ottiliana Rolandsson
We're ba-ack! Grab a cup of tea to sip and join your two favorite sassy theatre scholars as we lift our monocles to the grand finale of the eventful trilogy at the Capitol: the unprecedented second impeachment trial of former U.S. president Donald Trump.
From February 9th to 13th 2021, the news networks nationally and internationally unanimously chose to air what appeared to be an extremely formal theatre sports competition.
As with most theatre sports events, there were two teams: red and blue (though, confusingly, both sides wore suits and ties rather than T-shirts, and their tie colors bore no correlation to which team they were on), both performing lengthy monologues and mixed media presentations in the hopes of winning over an audience that pretty much already knew how it would vote.
However, unlike typical theatre sports events, the content was more tragic than comic, and largely prepared in advance rather than improvised.
Also, the audience was considerably less drunk. Or so we assume.
The sobriety of some of the performers, on the other hand, remains very much in question. But we’ll return to that in a bit.
This being a four-day marathon of theater sports games, we will recap the rounds for you. While each round took its jolly time, we’ll do our best to keep this brief.
Round 1: The Blue Team mops the floor with the Red Team
Round 2: The Blue Team showboats
Round 3: Both teams quote the founding fathers at each other
Round 4: The Red Team rallies
Finale: Everyone loses, as decided in advance
Let’s take a closer look at each round.
Round 1: February 9
We’re not going to sugar-coat this, folks. Round one was a straight up slaughter.
To say that these two teams were not well matched is like saying that Muhammad Ali and Mitch McConnell would not be well matched in a cage fight.
Setting aside the illicit delight we humans tend to take in watching an excellent performer annihilate an ill-prepared counterpart, this fundamental imbalance deflated the tension of the competition and made it quite obvious that the Red Team was strongly relying on their home-field advantage.
As it turns out, there was good reason for this disparity. It seems the entire Red Team quit en masse just the week before, forcing its famously temperamental director to... improvise. But not in a fun “yes, and” kind of way.
Apparently, the B team was not available. Or the C team. Or the D or E teams. Because we’re pretty sure what we just saw out there is the F team. As in, “OMG we are so F’ed.”
In their defense, Jamie Raskins’ masterful soliloquy and powerful mini-documentary would have been a tough act for anyone to follow.
Casually demonstrating the power of vulnerable personal storytelling, Rep. Raskins began by sharing his harrowing experience on January 6th, the day after he buried his twenty-five year old son. Worrying for her father in his fragile, grieving state, Raskins’ daughter and son in law accompanied him to work at the capitol, though only after he assured them that it would be quite safe.
Well. We all know how that turned out.
But for those who didn’t get the memo, the blue team then presented a short video presentation including never-before-seen footage of Attempted Coup!
While we stand by our original opinion of that piece, after viewing this more curated version, complete with timeline, we did gain some important insights.
First, what originally appeared to be a disorganized, flashmob-style guerrilla theatre piece appears to have been planned well in advance, as a response to repeated claims by the losing president that the recent election was stolen/fraudulent/illegitimate/illegal, and that he had irrefutable evidence to back this claim.
Spoiler alert: no such evidence ever came to light.
So although no directors have come forward to claim responsibility (not that we can blame them), the event was clearly inspired, produced, and stage managed by the originator of the “stop the steal” movement: the man before the curtain, that Wizard of Odd, former social media influencer Donald J. Trump.
Rep. Raskin then continued his heart-wrenching story, explaining how he and his daughter got separated in the chaos, dropping him into every parent’s worst nightmare. You know the one. Where you’re powerless to protect your child from a clear and imminent threat to which you yourself have unknowingly exposed them?
And so hot on the heels of this powerfully cathartic, clearly sincere story of love, loss, and abject terror, the red team’s first performer, Bruce Castor, was thus thrust into every performer’s worst nightmare. You know the one. Where you’re in a play, but you have no idea what play it is or what role you’ve been cast in, you don’t know any of your lines, haven’t rehearsed, and must now immediately go on stage regardless.
His 49 minute word-cloud of a meandering monologue began in the only way it reasonably could: with abject pandering to his audience.
Calling them “extraordinary people,” he flattered his way through what will surely go down in history as one of the most sycophantic soliloquies since the Elizabethan era.
Though we can’t speak for the audience, to us it was reminiscent of when your creepy uncle starts telling you just what a remarkable young lady you’ve turned out to be after his third eggnog at Christmas dinner. At first it seems sort of sweet, if embarrassing and awkward, but after a few minutes you kind of want to stuff a napkin in his mouth.
Praise and patriotic posturing aside, however, we were unable to extract any discernible themes or, frankly, meaning.
As Anderson Cooper put it, “I’ve heard drunken wedding speeches that were better organized.”
Even loyal fans of the red team were openly critical of this drunken uncle in an oversized suit’s performance:
“I couldn’t figure out where he was going,” – Sen. Lisa Murkowski
“Just rambled on and on and on” – Sen. John Cornyn
“I thought I knew where it was going, and I really didn’t know where it was going” – Sen. Lindsey Graham
“I don’t think they did the most effective job” – Sen. Ted Cruz
“I know enough to know that was some bad stuff” – Sen. Richard Burr
And though the delivery of his partner in performance, David Schoen, was relatively coherent, the most memorable thing about it was the intriguing way he grabbed for his head with one white-knuckled hand while crunching a water bottle in the other every time he took a drink.
On its face, this was a clear victory for the blue team, despite the 44 audience members (including all of those quoted above) who, either out of loyalty or fear of repercussions from the aforementioned temperamental director, voted red, regardless.
That said, we would like to entertain, for a moment, the possibility that the red team’s belly flop was actually a deliberate self-sacrifice for the greater good. Perhaps, having already enjoyed a long and lucrative career defending such notables as Jeffrey Epstien and refusing to go after beloved sex offender Bill Cosby, they had a little crise de conscience and realized this may be their collective third strike…
“And lo, an angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, fear not, but stink it ye up big time so that justice may prevail.”
Nah. They’re probably just as bad at their jobs as their boss is bad at hiring.
Round 2: February 10
On day two, the Blue Team embodied the word swagger.
The first round’s sweeping win was still palpable in the air, like Ozone in Florida, or static electricity after folding a basket of freshly laundered socks.
They took full advantage of the opportunity to strut their stuff, dressed to the teeth. It was clear they were taking their lead from certain HBO and Netflix box office hits. You know the ones. Shows with fitting titles such as “How to Get Away with Murder” and “The Good Fight.”
We can’t really blame them for taking a moment to savor that victory, knowing how short-lived it would be, given the Red Team’s home field advantage.
Most likely, though, they were simply taunting the Red Team’s orangutan-hued director, who had reportedly been seen fuming like an angry cartoon boss after round one, kicking golf balls and throwing putters around. This tantrum was dedicated to the Red Team’s lead actor, Mr. Castor. Surprisingly, though, although his performance was objectively abysmal, that was not Herr Director’s main complaint. That dishonor was reserved for his costume.
But how could Mr. Castor have foreseen the need for a suit that was actually tailored to fit him, rather than several sizes too large and a couple of decades out of date? After all, he was at the pit of the casting list, hired just a week ago, pitted against ringers like Raskin and saddled with an impossible theme. In a situation like that, who has time for costume design? Clearly he was reduced to stealing his style from Richard Gere’s character Billy Flynn in Chicago. All Castor wanted to do was Razzle Dazzle the heck out of the audience and the judges!
Honestly, we all expected him to have been fired after round one (firing people is after all what his boss does best), so the fact that he was there at all for round two was remarkable.
The Blue Team was so confident in their initial strategy that they kept laying it on in thick layers of the same ingredients over and over, like a giant plate of trashcan nachos: chips, cheese, beans, meat, salsa, repeat.
The general consensus was that, despite their showboating, the Blues took Round two. Hopefully they were able to at least crack open some bottles of Bud afterward for a traditional theatre sports post-victory toast.
Round Three: February 11
On day three, the games held us captive for another four and a half hours.
Rather than sticking to the usual theatre sports schtick by taking suggestions from the audience and riffing on popular culture, this round seemed to be rife with historical references and experimental curveballs.
Mr. Schoen, for example, at times appeared to be dabbling in ritual forms such as channeling, fervently reciting poems by well-known theatre patron Abraham Lincoln as though on the verge of speaking in tongues.
Not to be outdone, Rep. Raskins heeded the call with a quote from Thomas Paine, and not one but two quotes from Voltaire. Because everything sounds truthier when translated from the French.
Though the performances were overall fairly evenly matched for round three, we do think the Red Team earned a bonus point by somehow transforming Mike Pence into a likable (if still stoic) figure, something which up until then had seemed unthinkable. Did Trump just turn the tables by kicking them over? We’re honestly not sure at this point, and are frankly in desperate need of a pee break.
Round Four: February 12
On day four of the competition, the Red Team finally rallied around a single, coherent theme:
“I know you are, but what am I?”
Overtly grumpy about the lack of preparation time they had for this competition, they relied heavily on two classic improv techniques: repetition, and blatant ad hominem attacks on the other team.
For example, it seems they only had time to put together a couple of media presentations, and so filled up their time (when they weren’t whining about their lack of time) by playing them over. And over. And over. Perhaps as a form of protest?
Pushing the comedic device of repetition even further, their first presentation was literally just footage of democratic politicians, media personalities, and celebrities repeating the exact same word over and over again:
This repeated use of already repetitive material was reminiscent of that infamous experiment in extreme comedic repetition: Kristen Shaal is a Horse.
Here’s how it works.
First, it has the desired effect. Then after a few repetitions it becomes tedious and irritating. Then the audience is hit with a second wave of effectiveness. But then it just. Keeps. Going. And you kind of want to throttle whoever came up with this bit. But then, almost inexplicably, it suddenly becomes hilarious, and you find yourself laughing so hard you can hardly breathe and believe this might, in fact, be the most brilliant bit of comedy you’ve ever witnessed.
Or maybe that was just our reaction.
Mr. Castor’s razzle dazzle didn’t really cut it on day four either. But the Red Team had one last card up their oversized sleeves, and thus unleashed a new bloodhound: Michael Van der Veen.
This rough joker from the slippery streets sure knew how to embody the not-so-secret word of the day: fight!
We couldn’t help but be impressed with the meticulously trained consistency of his gestural repertoire: the emphatic flicking of his notes each time he left the podium, his deeply furrowed eyebrows and reprimanding glares shooting like bar darts over his horned glasses. None of the other actors could compete with this perfect impersonation of the indignant Headmaster addressing a bunch of naughty schoolchildren.
At one point, we thought we saw Madame Pelosi shaking the luxurious blue curtains in the back. Was she attempting to hold herself back from darting up on to the playing arena and tagging herself in?
Honestly, we half-hoped to see her snatch the mic and yell:
“You want to see crazy? I’ll show you crazy. Watch me pet the snake, Bitchez!”
But true to the sport, she held her ground and her place.
Finale: February 13
While there are plenty of examples of spectacles that are still delightful to watch despite the fact that we all know in advance how they will end--Hamlet, The Nutcracker, every romantic comedy ever made--we must say, this was not one of them. When the finale of this finale inevitably culminated in that patently dull monotone choir of yays and nays, confirming the aforementioned foregone conclusion, we couldn't help but feel rather unsatisfied.
We believe we speak for everyone in the audience when we say:
After all that, is that it?
Ultimately, it seems everyone lost in this odd competition. However, at least one rematch is in the works, this time before a less biased studio audience.
See y’all in Georgia! Mmm-peachy!