‘Bitter’ and ‘Trump:’ Solo Performances at La Jolla Playhouse

The La Jolla Playhouse is hosting two one-person performances for a brief run (October 4-9). Both focus on issues so contemporary that they are currently in the headlines, though one comes from a well-established monologist and the other a writer-performer who is just getting started. Both shows are worth a look.

The Trump Card makes a brief stop at the Mandell Weiss Forum as part of a national tour to coincide with the U. S. presidential election. The author and performer is Mike Daisey, who is well-known for his provocative examinations of U. S. culture (and, best known for the controversy generated by his piece, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs).

Mike Daisey Photo by Ursa Waz

Mike Daisey
Photo by Ursa Waz

In The Trump Card, Mr. Daisey spends two hours sitting at a table talking from notes that constitute an outline of what he plans to say. The premise is a variation on Marc Anthony’s “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him” speech in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Mr. Daisey claims to “bury” Donald Trump, in a way, but ends up praising him for “winning” the upcoming presidential election, even if he loses the actual vote in a rout.

To explicate his analysis, Mr. Daisey summons further a cast of “deplorables” who have influenced either Mr. Trump himself or the U. S. body politic, whose supporters have been attracted by the Trump campaign. These include Mr. Trump’s two most influential mentors, his father, Fred Trump, who Mr. Daisey described as a Brooklyn slumlord, and Roy Cohn, the power-broker lawyer who first came to prominence in the Army-McCarthy hearings. In fact, a New York Times article went so far as to call Mr. Trump “Cohn’s apprentice.”

There are plenty more where that came from, including the audience watching the performance, who Mr. Daisey criticized for being “smug.” Daisey himself is not immune (including a brief reference to the radio appearance on NPR’s “This American Life” that landed him in trouble). About the only person who emerges unscathed is Daisey’s mother, who gets to serve as the messenger for Trump supporters and to deliver the punch line of the monologue.

Mr. Daisey intrigues with his analysis and injects plenty of humor in his delivery. If you’re following the presidential race closely, much of the information in the monologue may not be new to you. Still, it’s worth the time to hear how Mr. Daisey skillfully assembles and presents the material.

The Bitter Game is an immersive theatre experience that was originally presented at the Playhouse’s WithOutWalls festival a year ago. It’s been remounted in Southeast San Diego at the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation, in a space used by Writerz Blok.

The writer and performer is Keith A. Wallace, a graduate of UC San Diego’s M. F. A. program in theatre. Faculty member Deborah Stein is credited with co-creation and direction.

Keith A. Wallace Photo by Jim Carmody

Keith A. Wallace
Photo by Jim Carmody

Audience members are led from a playground area through a series of scenes depicting a young African American boy’s growth into adulthood, his relationship with his mother, and the seemingly inevitable encounter he has with local police. The audience hears the young boy receiving “the talk” from his mother (for the uninitiated, “the talk” is how African American parents instruct their children to behave around police officers). We follow him as he grows, goes to college at Vassar, and, inevitably, has that police encounter for which his mother prepared him.

Mr. Wallace is a very engaging performer and if his story is all too familiar by now, it still packs a wallop to see how it actually plays out. And, if San Diegans might wish to think themselves immune from these situations, the recent incident in El Cajon hovers over the proceedings, giving lie to yet another opportunity to be smug. Only, Mr. Wallace doesn’t have to confront it, the way Mr. Daisey did.

If anything, The Bitter Game eloquently makes the #BLACKLIVESMATTER slogan real and relevant, if you didn’t already know that.

[box]Tickets for both productions are available through the La Jolla Playhouse box office (see below for contact information). For The Bitter Game, parking is available at the Jacobs Center, whose entrance is at 404 Euclid Avenue, immediately south of the trolley tracks (if you miss the turn, go through the shopping center to the driveway). It is a short walk to the site where the performance occurs. Access is also available from the Euclid Trolley station, on the Orange Line. Wear walking shoes: the performance involves moving from scene to scene, and the audience is standing for most of the 55 minute run time. Performances begin at 7:30pm.

For The Trump Card, Isaac Butler is credited with direction. Remaining performances are Friday and Saturday at 8pm, Saturday and Sunday at 2pm. The run time is two hours with no intermission.[/box]

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La Jolla Playhouse
2910 La Jolla Village Drive La Jolla CA 92037 USA Work Phone: 858.550.1010 Website: La Jolla Playhouse website
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