The original book by Sinclair Lewis, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, was written in 1935, at the beginning of Hitler’s rise to power.The story depicts the ascension of an American political outsider and populist named Buzz Windrip who took the presidency of the United States. Windrip won the 1936 election against Roosevelt, and within a short time, with the support of the Forgotten Men’s Alliance, the U.S. has fallen into a dictatorship. After infiltrating the judicial system, the first victim of his rule was freedom of the press, as portrayed by the character of newspaper editor Doremus Jessup, who was first only suppressed but then suffered physically
In the mid-1930s, the American view of the political situation in Germany under Hitler was: “It can’t happen here.” Today, with Trump in power and the right becoming more and more mainstream in several European countries, many Germans still view the United States in the same way that Americans viewed Nazi Germany at the time.
The opening scene begins with an argument between Jessup on the left and party leader Lee Harrison (Michael Goldberg), General Haik (Benjamin Lillie) on the right, with both sides trying to explain their theories to the audience, the journalist is clearly at a disadvantage, and as the audience’s perceptions are led forward step by step by the party leader’s logic, it is a natural progression to the moment when Buzz Windrip (Felix Goeser) is elected as president.
The background raises, the intense white light hits the audience from behind, the music starts, and everything becomes epic and jaw-dropping, a moment that really makes you love Rüping.
Felix Goeser’s interpretation of the newly elected president’s is very nicely rendered. Michael Goldberg, who plays the think-tank, also plays the role to the hilt, from his yes-manners at the beginning to his confusion when he becomes president. Last but not least, Benjamin Lillie, who played the General, danced, sang with a voice changer, brings the emotion to a climax, especially the solo at the end of the show which gave audience a dopamine rush! Rüping cleverly invites the audience to eat hot dogs at the lowest point of the performance when the audience might be bored.
The scene was set up with the audiences sitting on both sides of the stage, and the President standing on the tall scaffolding in the middle, while two Nazi flags were lowered from both sides of the scaffolding, much like in the movie when Hitler faced the thousands of SS soldiers. After eating hot dog, General Haik reads in front of the stage the names of the cabinet members that the new president has fired since he took office, and each time a name is read, a member of the audience walks from the back of the stage back into their seat. Just like the massive fire Trump did when he first took the office. Very nicely done!
Since Trump came to power, most of the leftists I’ve seen have been opposing for the sake of opposition without much of arguments, full of their own Idealism without any regard for reality, and the productions that have been brought to the theater stage have rarely been profound enough, but have simply used Trump as a laughing stock in their productions. Only with this play, I can logically embracing the director’s dissatisfaction with the populist revival, and even without the aura I attached to Rüping, I felt it was the best handling of the pan-political works I’ve seen this year.
Undoubtedly the best of 2019!