Conan McCarthy and Peter Schmitz in When We Go Upon the Sea.
BOTTOM LINE: A surprising, well written and well acted multi-layered story that goes past Bush the man, and takes you someplace very unexpected.
This is a play about George W. Bush. Just in case you aren't familiar, let me fill you in. George W. Bush is dumb. He is from Texas. He talks like a cowboy. He's a highly religious recovering alcoholic, cokehead, war criminal. All of these things are very funny, or at least they were back in 2003, and maybe even in 2007 when When We Go Upon The Sea first premiered. And ten minutes into this play, as all the obligatory Bush jokes were being told, albeit very cleverly, I was a little worried that it was going to be a glorified SNL skit, sans Will Ferrell.
But let me assure you, there is much more to this play than you first expect, as the focus takes a step past Bush the caricature, even past Bush the human being, and takes you someplace entirely different. Before I knew it I was swept up into unexpected moral intrigue and mystery that is simultaneously very funny and very thought provoking.
When We Go Upon The Sea is written by Lee Blessing, who was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, plus Tony and Olivier Awards for his play A Walk In The Woods, and the quality of his writing is a testament to all three. The fictional scenario places Bush in a hotel room the night before his trial in front of the International Court of Justice, unable to sleep with nothing but a local concierge to keep him company.
The subtle culture clash between America the Brazen and Europe the Humble, which has seen it's fair share of wars and dictators in the past, plays out as a subtle dance, exquisitely acted by Conan McCarthy playing Bush, and Peter Schmitz playing Piet. And as Bush eventually confesses in a drug induced haze: "when world's collide, there's bound to be a little friction."
Piet and his acquaintance Anna Lisa (Kim Carson), who is a "relaxer," not a prostitute, take it upon themselves to show the accused evil people in the world one last night of pure unadulterated altruism before they spend the rest of their lives condemned. Blessing walks a fine moral line, and although you hardly sympathize with Bush, a mirror is held up to the to the non-ruling class, such as ourselves, and provides interesting food for thought.
In the end, who better than a concierge at The Hague to have some refreshing insight into power and the nature of evil.
The whole thing is impeccably polished thanks to Paul Meshejian's direction. It has subtle and layered acting, and has an effectively intimate set that does surprisingly much with such a small space. I'm sure many of us have had our fill of our 43rd president, but I assure you'll come for the Bush jokes, and stay for the humor and epiphanies.
(When We Go Upon The Sea plays att 59E59 at 59th East 59th Street through July 3rd. Performances are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:15pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 8:15pm, Saturdays at 2:15pm and 8:15pm, and Sundays at 3:15pm. Tickets are $35 and are available by calling 212.279.4200 or visiting www.ticketcentral.com. The show runs for approximately 85 minutes with no intermission.)