by Beatrice Williams-Rude
A most interesting theatrical experiment is taking place at The Lion Theatre on Theatre Row. The Trial of an American President presents the scenario of an imagined International Court of Justice war crimes case against George W. Bush at the Hague.
There are three broad charges, conviction of any one of which makes the defendant a war criminal: launching a war of aggression; crimes of occupation; and torture.
ISIS provides the leit motif: how the American invasion of Iraq and the ensuing chaos paved the way for its creation. (This reverberated in Monday’s presidential debate during which it was noted that ISIS, embryonic in 2004 now operates in much of the Middle East and has cells throughout the world.)
There are three performers on stage, the prosecutor, played by Michael Rogers, a dignified, imposing presence; the narrator, effectively a Greek chorus, played by svelte Mahira Kakkar; and George W. Bush, most convincingly embodied by Tony Carlin.
There is splendid use of technology with voice-overs and videos. We see/hear Dick Cheney (James Lurie), Laura Bush (Anne Bobby), Karl Rove (Britt Whittle), Tony Blair (Jonathan Tindle). Ten victims are presented: an American woman (Leah Curney) who lost her son (“For what?!”) and her son (Timothy Ellis Riley) who cites patriotism as his reason for enlisting. George W. Bush’s no-show record with the national guard is mentioned. Three Fallujah residents (Monna Sabouri, Ahmad Maksoud and Amel Khalil) testify, as do five torture victims (Sacco Sarkis, Nik Sadhnani, Abraham Makany, Ryan Shams and Nava Namdar). Their torture is agonizingly detailed.
Abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are cited. Black holes and extraordinary rendition are noted.
As the proof of the crimes is offered, Bush, defending his actions repeatedly cites national security and 9/11—despite there having been no connection between Iraq and the World Trade Center calamity. At these times he ferociously maintains “I’d do it again.” He insists Saddam had weapons of mass destruction . . . although none were ever found. He keeps reiterating that his “gut” tells him there were weapons of mass destruction. Whenever the demonstrable evidence is presented, Bush goes back to his “gut” and God, claiming he talks to God and everything he did was what God wanted.
When individual cases of the innocent suffering are presented, he veers from “this is war, mistakes happen” to something approaching regret that he didn’t pay “closer attention.”
When both prosecution and defense rest, the case is turned over to the nine-member jury—audience members who’d been given ballots. At the Sunday, Sept. 25 matinee, Bush was guilty, 5-4. At an earlier performance it was 6-3.
The play, by Dick Tarlow and Bill Smith is so well crafted that arguments ensued after the last curtain call and the house lights were on. Heated exchanges among audience members, between husbands and wives, continued from the theater to the lobby, the elevator and the ladies’ room (I didn’t visit the men’s room, but probably there, too).
The excellent direction is by Stephen Eich. video production and editing is by Philip Coccioletti; projection design by Kevan Loney; sound designer, Alex Dietz-Kent. Scenic design and lighting design, Ann Beyersdorfer and Bill Green, respectively. It was produced by Shelter Entertainment in association with Hello Larry LTD.
The Trial of an American President. Through October 15 at The Lion Theatre (at Theatre Row 410 West Forty-Second Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues). 70 minutes, no intermission. www.bushontrialplay.com
Photos: Ken Nahoum