There's no doubt about it: Politics has captured our collective imagination (and our reality) in a big way. One can barely turn on the TV or log on to Facebook without being inundated with the political opinions of celebrities and friends alike. Fortunately or unfortunately, theater lovers are in the very same media-consumption boat. New York City's summer theater scene is packed with opinions on the state of the current U.S. government, not to mention plenty of thoughts on some of the most highly political moments of the past few centuries.
If you're looking to keep pace theatrically with your other political intake, here's a rundown of politics, theater-style.
Those with vivid memories of high school English class will recall that George Orwell's eerily prescient novel often reads more like a political treatise than a work of fiction. Set in the dystopian future of 1984 (the novel was published in 1949), the book imagines a world governed by three totalitarian superstates at constant war with one another. Rather than engaging audiences intellectually (which books are better at anyway), Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan, the directors of the new Broadway adaptation, have decided to sock us in the gut with a sensory overload meant to stimulate our animal reflexes. Considering Owell's book is about the triumph of fear over more high-minded emotions (if published today, the tagline might have been "Love Loses"), it is a thrillingly visceral way to convey a well-known story.
The lives of civil rights pioneers John Lewis, Diane Nash, and more are brought to the stage in Freedom Riders: The Civil Rights Musical, a New York Musical Festival production running August 1-5 at the Acorn Theatre. Created by Richard Allen and Taran Gray, this production is bound to inspire audiences while educating them on the history of these iconic figures, who used nonviolent action to initiate social change. And with John Lewis still serving in Congress, representing Georgia's 5th Congressional District, Freedom Riders is bound to have a distinctly contemporary resonance as well.
It's hard to find any political common ground these days. Fortunately, Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's Assassins asks no one to take sides. In fact, the piece is more effective if you don't. You can see for yourself when the Tony-winning musical comes to New York City Center for a brief run from July 12-15, featuring a dream cast of actors portraying the most notorious presidential assassins in American history. While all of the assassins remain solidly on the wrong side of history, they gain enough humanity in this show to reveal some eerie things about the unsettling underbelly of the American dream. While it's not a musical that aims to deliver unequivocal "patriotism," it's certainly one that offers a better understanding of the word.
Winner of the 2017 Tony Award for Best Play, J.T. Rogers's Oslo takes a gripping — and often humorous — look at the politics and players behind the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords. Jefferson Mays and Jennifer Ehle star as the power couple Terje Rød-Larsen and Mona Juul who organized the groundbreaking meeting between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Michael Aronov won a 2017 Tony Award for his portrayal of Uri Savir, the suave, smooth-talking Israeli negotiator. There's tough political talk, unexpected laughs, and plenty of waffles to go around in this highly digestible slice of history.
For those who are definitely unhappy with the country's current political situation, there's Me the People — The Trump America Musical. Created by the writers of the 2006 revue Bush Wars, Me the People satirizes President Trump's White House, taking aim at "his Crony Cabinet," "his Supremely Radical Court," "White House grifters Ivanka and Jared" and "the Trumpcare debacle." Though the president himself never makes an appearance, audiences will be treated to the likes of Sigmund Freud and Hillary Clinton. This one is guaranteed to make liberal audience members at the Triad Theater nod in agreement and laugh with delight.
No political theater list would be complete without a nod to Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical about the United States' first treasury secretary. Hamilton's revolutionary ideas and pro-immigration stance is reinforced by its casting, which has not only Alexander Hamilton, but the Marquis de Lafayette, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison played by actors of color. In this way, Hamilton insists that audiences see the United States as a country founded by people of different nationalities who worked together for the common good. This emphasis has struck a chord with audiences and artists alike. Viewers applaud the "we get the job done" line at performances, and recently a music video featuring Riz Ahmed was released for the "Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)" track on the Hamilton Mixtape.
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