Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Treading Water


When We Go Upon the Sea

Written by Lee Blessing

Directed by Paul Meshejian

Starring Conan McCarty, Peter Schmitz, Kim Carson

June 10-July 3, 2010

59 E 59 Theater, 59 East 59th Street

In his anti-Dubya fantasia, When We Go Upon the Sea, Lee Blessing tries to be evenhanded about a president he loathes. George W. Bush, staying in a hotel room in The Hague the night before his trial for crimes against humanity begins, is allowed by is creator to ruminate about his predicament and even semi-lucidly talk about his reasons behind what he did after the Sept.11 terrorist attacks.

That rumination comes in the form of late-night talks with Piet, a proper Dutch butler who supplies the former president with booze and cocaine, and a woman named Anna-Lisa, whom Piet brings to keep George company for part of his last night of freedom.

Although this unlikely trio discusses various political topics—like George's contention that, if what he did in the War on Terror was so heinous, why was he re-elected to continue the same job that he'd been doing?—When We Go Upon the Sea would rather play with the idea that George should be allowed to simmer awhile for his sins, all while enjoying himself one last time by getting drunk, high, and laid.

There are scattered throughout the play some amusing lines at George's expense, but we already know that the former president is an easy target. Even his introduction to Piet brings on the insult humor. “Pete?” George asks in confusion. “No, Piet—like Mondrian.” This is followed by the inevitable blank stare.

Since Blessing's allegorical conceit doesn't allow for much dramatic conflict, the playwright invents back stories for Piet and Anna-Lisa, who are given long monologues that are supposed to add weight, but in fact do little more than stretch a wafer-thin play beyond its means (George also gets a chance to spin yarns).

Conan McCarthy provides a decent Dubya impersonation, Peter Schmitz (Piet) and Kim Carson (Anna-Lisa) make strong impressions in roles fraught with metaphorical significance, and Paul Meshejian's economical staging makes good use of Meghan Jones' nicely-appointed set. But 85 minutes of When We Go Upon the Sea—an evocative title too poetic for such prosaic goings-on—are too little, too late: nearly two years after Obama's election, even George's most vociferous accusers have moved on.

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