Peter Crawley says Bush-whackery has run its course
What does George W Bush, a man not given to selfdoubt, have to fear? Next week’s report on whether the US troop surge – his last roll of the dice for Iraq and his legacy – has paid off? The steady disintegration of the Republican base rocked by so much terror, political scandal and administrative incompetence that even Rudy Guiliani or Arnold Scwarzenegger might struggle to rebuild it? Or does the American president lie awake at night wondering what his most staunch critic will throw at him next?
In other words, does Bush care about the theatre? I suspect not. But the theatre clearly cares about him. There have now been so many dramatic responses to Bush, his dealing with 9/11 and everything after, that it’s hard to remember political theatre without him. He has been put under the spotlight and through the ringer in David Hare’s Stuff Happens and the docudrama Guantanamo; he’s become the background bogey man of hysterical dramas such as Myth, Propaganda and Disaster in Nazi Germany and Contemporary America; he’s initiated a surge of wishful-thinking plays about Nixon’s impeachment and cast a shadow over everything here from Sam Shepard’s Kicking a Dead Horse to Martin Crimp’s Fewer Emergencies. The only American president to fare worse in the theatre was Abraham Lincoln.
Not that it has made any difference. In the beginning of the Bush era, it seemed possible that theatre could register a palpable hit on real-world politics. In the buildup to 2003’s “pre-emptive strike”, there were more than 1,000 readings of Lysistrata, Aristophanes’s anti-war satire, held simultaneously across the globe. The war, you will recall, was not averted. Then, in the continuing fallout from the conflict and the comfortable re-election of so widely despised a figure, the public turned cynical and the theatre grew caustic.
That is why, as his last day in office steadily approaches, Bush is less likely to find himself between the crosshairs of overheated agitprop and far more frequently made a figure of fun. There he is delivering an evangelical aria in the off-Broadway opera The Passion of George Bush. He’s the dumb-ass punchline in Rude Mechanical’s satirical sketchbook Get Your War On, while The TEAM’s Particularly in the Heartland, soon to be performed at the Dublin Fringe Festival, inhabits the red state culture which Bush has made his playground.
I am distressingly predictable in my politics (at one point this column was going to be called Stage Left), but with every cosy consensus about just how evil, how manipulated, how stupid Bush is, and with every hollow snigger that emanates from a right-on satire, the theatre of Bush-whacking seems more defeated.
We deserve an alternative. How about a rabidly right-wing and unapologetic tribute to the man and his legacy, an operatic appreciation of staying the course in Iraq, or a docudrama in praise of Enduring Freedom? It may not make any political difference, but, at the very least, it would be nice to feel outraged again. firstname.lastname@example.org