American Politics Needs More Drama

Posted July 10, 2013

Categories: Art, Articles, Featured, Plays

I like my politics the way I like my baseball. I prefer to wait for the highlights reel.

Like baseball, political events in Washington, D.C. tend to be long and boring, punctuated by the occasional home run speech or graceful double-play legislative maneuver in Congress. Have you ever wondered why, when you turn on C-Span, the legislators give their speeches to nearly empty chambers? It’s not just that our representatives are busy with meetings or fundraising back in their districts. Those stem-winders in Congress are, with occasional exceptions, real snoozers.

Ever read the National Defense Authorization Act? Not exactly a page-turner. Ever attend a hearing on health care reform? Not exactly action-packed. Remember Al Franken when he was on Saturday Night Live? Funny guy! And what about Al Franken today in the Senate? Now he’s the straight man.

But like baseball, the condensed version of politics can be thrilling. The epic rise of Barack Obama to the presidency, the tragic fall of his first challenger John McCain, the decision to go to war in Iraq, the revelations of NSA spying: all of these are fascinating stories. But when subjected to the long, drawn-out, and frequently spurious analysis of the 24-hour news cycle, even these stories become tedious.

We desperately want more drama in politics. That’s why West Wing was such a popular TV show. That’s why there have been so many political thrillers set in Washington. That’s why Jon Stewart and Rush Limbaugh are so popular: they share little in common except for the fact that neither of them is boring.

As a foreign policy analyst at a Washington think tank, I’ve spent a lot of my time with GAO reports, lengthy commentaries on minute shifts in the North Korean bureaucracy, and weighty seminars at the Wilson Center. Sure, I find this stuff interesting. But I don’t expect anyone but my fellow wonks to want to parse the details over a beer.

In the evenings, though, I condense all of this politics into drama. My latest play, The Politician, is a tragicomedy about an arrogant pundit who quickly proves the Peter Principle — that individuals rise to their level of incompetence — by becoming an important player in the State Department.

Peter Peters starts out as a foreign policy expert at The Center, a think tank at the center of the political spectrum and at the center of Washington, DC. He is a skilled media commentator who, because of the demands of the news universe, is an expert on everything, including topics he knows nothing about.

The curtain opens on a very heavy news day in the nation’s capital. Peter Peters has a succession of interviews lined up. At his first interview, the program switches topics on him at the last moment: Can he talk about the latest terrorist attack in Khazaria? With hardly a pause, he agrees. Within minutes he’s pontificating about a terrorist attack in a tiny country he can’t locate on the map.

It’s a command performance, and it earns him a new status as an area expert. But it also puts him smack in the middle of a terrorist plot that eventually entangles his family as well. If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, complete ignorance is positively explosive.

The tension only ratchets up when Peters moves from the media world into the State Department. Having acquired his position more because of connections than competence, he quickly demonstrates that he has not learned his earlier lesson. Arrogance and ignorance compete for the upper hand in his psyche. Once again thrust into a national security emergency, he conducts himself according to the adage made popular by Rahm Emanuel: a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. The result is drama at its most Greek.

In The Politician, I have created my own political highlights reel. I’ve brought together terrorism, war, media frenzy, political infighting, espionage, and Washington-style duplicity. It is political satire at a high dramatic pitch.

Of course I want the audience to leave the theater saying that they enjoyed all 110 minutes of The Politician and they’ll tell all their friends to see it this July at the Capital Fringe festival in Washington, DC. But most of all, I want them coming out of the theater as if they’ve just watched a particularly satisfying Major League round up: “That was not only a great play, that was a grand slam!”

Huffington Post, July 8, 2013


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