FAIRBANKS — What would happen if politicking as we know it today disappeared? If all the stump speeches, debates, endless political ads and baby kissing that presidential candidates do was replaced by a single night game show hosted by a corrupt master of ceremonies?
It would be a spectacle, but the outcome likely wouldn’t be all that different.
That’s the premise behind a play premiering this week at the Empress Theatre. “Campaign -The Spectacle” is being produced by the Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre, directed by Tom Robenolt. The author has chosen to remain anonymous.
It is a dark, funny political satire that contains mature themes and language. At its heart is how media can distort and manipulate a campaign, how people turn to CNN or Fox to get their take on the news instead of watching a debate and deciding for themselves, Robenolt said.
The stage is set for a night of frenetic activity. Cash, the master of ceremonies played by professional actor John Moffatt, introduces the three contestants, er ... candidates, as music plays in the background, as in your typical game show. Cash presides over the show with the aid of sidekick Harlequin, played by Levi Ben-Israel.
“Cash and Harlequin kind of get mixed up in this world of media and politics,” Robenolt said.
The action is nonstop. Harlequin rides a tricycle around the stage, constantly checking his smartphone. A bank of 22 televisions behind the live band shifts between cartoons, colors, the Los Angeles riots and other scenes. One candidate, Mr. Washington, is larger than life in a rhinestone cowboy outfit.
Harlequin is almost converted by a super-religious candidate and the play “starts to get into this weird kind of twist, dark twist, as it comes along,” Robenolt said.
“There’s not a moment where it really stops,” Robenolt said. “It’s very colorful, very bright, with kind of a ‘South Park’ humor on politics.” The audience is encouraged to participate. They can ask the candidates questions. Some can play a board game on the stage.
The play was actually written about 20 years ago, the playwright said via telephone Wednesday. The idea came to him while he listened to a live album by Pink Floyd. He wrote almost the entire play in one night. It’s a fusion of politics, circus, carnival and TV spectacle that was as relevant then as it is today.
“The same cynical metric was still there,” he said. “I saw it all as everything just kind of being false and being designed for television.
“Politics was all about scripted events,” he added. Even today, “the only part of the (Republican National Convention) that wasn’t scripted just completely blew up,” referring to Clint Eastwood’s empty chair soliloquy.
The original idea was for the studio audience to leave a televised debate feeling left out because the production was entirely scripted for TV, the playwright said. The play has since been revised and updated. He said he is reaching for an experience in which the audience isn’t sure whether they’ve been to a play or a rock concert.
“The actors have added a great amount of creativity,” he said. “It’s been a real fun process watching it grow organically.”
He likes to think that the ideal way for the play to come into existence would have been for him to walk into his office each morning to find another five minutes of dialogue left anonymously on his voice mail. Although the author is sure his name will come out sooner rather than later, we’ll leave it at anonymous.
It’s all part of the game.
Contact staff writer Julie Stricker at 459-7532.
If you go:
What: “Campaign - The Spectacle”
When: Oct. 5-21, Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.
Where: Empress Theatre in the Co-Op Building, 535 2nd Ave.
Tickets: $15-20, available online at http://www.fstalaska.org/
Not recommended for children