Epistemology and Farce compete in Donald, Ted, and Marco

Donald, Ted, and Marco presents the audience with an explicit break from reality. The stage is not so much set, as it is demarcated by fluorescent green tape in a grid pattern on the floor and spreading partway up the wall before dispersing. The visual instantly recalls a virtual world being rendered; a glimpse of the underlying structure imposed by the architects of the imaginary. The rest of the set dressing is minimal; a bench, two chairs, and a door attached to the wall.

According to the playbill, the writer, one of the actors, and the director, are all involved with improv theater which might explain why the setup feels more like a sketch than a fully realized production. It is easy to imagine an audience of political science majors calling out “Donald Trump,” “Ted Cruz,” and “Marco Rubio” when asked to help set up a scene, and a science fiction fan at the back yelling “pocket dimension” as a location.

Alexis Ingram inspires the same visceral pleasure that one imagines a Trump supporter feels at a Trump rally. She is overall more coherent than Trump usually manages without the aid of a teleprompter and strict instructions not to deviate from the script, but she captures the quicksilver temperament that one associates with small children and, now, presidential candidates.

Kelly Seigh is the Ted Cruz liberals imagined during the primaries. Calm, calculating, with a mouthful of sweet words, and a fanatic zeal that had, until recently, been relegated to the outskirts of national politics. Of course, Seigh is a sight more charismatic than Cruz. The only bit of her performance that gets lost is a metaphorical turn as a “robot” which bore greater resemblance to a facial tick than an automaton.

The unexpected delight of the show is Kate Teichman who gives a truly moving performance as Marco Rubio, transforming “Little Marco” into a hero. The third most popular Republican nominee was dismissed and denigrated by the media and the country at large, with Donald Trump leading the charge. The show decides to return to him something almost resembling dignity.

The show has a number of superb moments, executed with perfect hysteric tenor and frenetic pitch, usually with Ingram as the chaotic epicenter. These moments where—in the words of Donald Trump—“the shackles are off,” have a conviction which sometimes eludes the rest of the production.

The problem might stem from playwright Dave Rabinow’s intentions as outlined in his introduction of the show. He expressed his hope that Donald, Ted, and Marco might be able to offer some insight into the minds of the titular characters. Unfortunately, neither empathy nor cynicism have been able to produce those answers for the huddled masses in living rooms and TV news studios, and Rabinow is no exception.

The effort is not without fruit. A number of the dream sequences and non-diagetic monologues approach something like insight (I found myself feeling a pang of something I am afraid to even call “pity” when Ingram looked out into the audience and demanded “Why won’t you love me?”). But the overall effect is undercut by the emotional indecision of the show.

The production cannot decide whether it is existential political pastiche or base absurdist comedy. The discomfort of compassion for three men whom the audience (one assumes) considers to be harbingers of the end times proves impossible to sustain for the players and the playwright, either separately or in conjunction. When contrasted with the unrefined pleasure derived from the mockery of that which terrifies, the power of the introspective emotion is lost.

As long as the show remains ambivalent as to whether the auto-cannibalism of the Republican party is tragedy or farce, the audience will leave entertained but ultimately no more enlightened regarding the psychological currents of the political moment.

3 out of 5 anchors

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