The monologue, written by Mike Daisey performed and adapted at AS220 by Seth Lepore, goes to show that at this moment, and now for the foreseeable future, all political theater is the theater of the absurd.
The show starts and ends in a nightmare, in between, delivered in vivid metaphor, the history of Donald J. Trump unfolds. The show is perfectly incapsulated with the warning Lepore delivered at the beginning: “You’ll be laughing, but it won’t be funny.”
Looking back, with the hard result of the election at hand, Trump Card is as effective a map for navigating this new, fractured world, as it was when trying to make sense of the possibility of this world.
Lepore’s rapid fire speech and frenetic affect delivered a performance that appropriately conveyed the danger that threatens the ideals of our democracy.
The show’s narrative threads were held down by three major anchors.
The first was the nightmare (Lepore’s or Daisey’s is unclear, though I suspect the latter), where the political movers and shakers, the who’s who of the last few decades of American history, were at a party hosted by the player, where they played “Trump the Game,” which is sort of like Monopoly, except that the money is ridiculously high value, and with the right roll of the die, you can take whatever you want of what someone else has.
The second was a historical examination of major events, scandals, and persons that brought Trump and, by extension, America, to this presidential race and, now, this presidency.
The third was culled from Lepore’s personal experiences, growing up in Johnston, experiencing Rhode Island politics, being in the local music scene in Boston in the 90s, a stint out in California, and now with a family of his own living in Easthampton, MA.
The devilish mastermind of the Trump we know today, according to Daisey’s research, is the lawyer Roy Cohen. To attempt to match the vividness and consolidated distaste of the descriptions of Cohen provided in the monologue would be an exercise in futility, but, in short, the gist of it is that he is the “most evil lawyer on the planet”. Roy Cohen is given credit for developing the Trump methodology we know so well: if they try and touch you, sue them, and lie like you mean it.
If only the show could have been given life and its ultimate urgency when this all began. Or perhaps, if we could have all headed the warning that so many tried to deliver: mockery is a failure to be afraid, and a failure of the imagination. The monologue addressed the issue as being one of pleasure. To mock and speak ill of someone who scares us gives us a certain feeling in the mouth, it feels good to bring others down, but it is also a poison. Every time we do it, we lose important, vital things.
Perhaps most important of all was the moral of the story (something quite rare), we all played “Trump the Game” for a while—but we did it thinking we could pack the game up and put it back in the box.
At the end of the party, after everyone leaves, only Roy Cohen is left, and he warns Lepore, “This is never going away,” because of every person who saw Trump get that far, that close to the top (and, of course, get there), not in spite of what he was doing and saying, but because of it. All those people have learned that this is a real and viable way of achieving things. There will be more.
Lepore looked out into the audience, as the show drew to a close. He said, “All the rage is just sadness” and that Trump was merely bringing all that sadness out. We know that this is a reckoning. The coastal and metropolitan progressive dream is not over, but it has been revealed as the fiction it has always been. We are not waking up in a new America, we are waking up in the America we have always been, and we are seeing clearly in the mirror for the first time.
At the end, Lepore admits, “All I can think to do is apologize to everyone.”
Perhaps that is where we all need to start.
Five out of Five anchors