It seems everybody either loves or hates President George W. Bush. This division, apparent all over America, is the central theme to “Dear George: Letters to the President,” which was performed to marginal success Oct. 30 at Out North. Although it succeeded in demonstrating the deep division felt in our country, it fell short on its stated goal of creating “a contemporary portrait of America.”
“Dear George,” created by Marcus Woollen, is a compilation of open letters written to Bush by Americans from all walks of life. The action of the play is four actors sitting onstage and reading the letters. The project is ambitious, if not particularly engaging. The purpose of this is to give the audience a feel of the social fabric of the nation as a whole, which the play achieves to a moderate extent.
The play gives roughly equal time to both Bush supporters and detractors, but gives almost no time to those in the middle. While this starkly demonstrates the polarization of our nation at present, I couldn’t help thinking the play makes the audience feel the country is more divided than it actually might be.
The cast gives a good effort at portraying the many different people who wrote the letters, but the results were lacking. Most of the actors had two primary portrayals, pro-Bush and anti-Bush, although there were a few memorable characters, such as the sarcastically helpless old lady (Joyce Lanine) and the lonely soldier’s wife (Whitney Lieberman). Sadly, a wide spectrum of characterization never materialized. This is unfortunate, since there was great potential to experience a broad range of people throughout America. As is made clear early in the piece, letters reveal more about the writer than the recipient, and while we might not have gotten a feel for the country as a whole, we could have at least felt we had met a great deal of interesting individuals.
The play covers many subjects, from Iraq and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to the economy and religion, and in this aspect enjoys the most significance. By hearing opposite points of view on many of today’s most important issues, we are moved to discuss and debate them, which is another of the plays stated goals. Still, it would have been nice if the letters contained more convincing arguments, rather than simple Bush bashing (name-calling is not convincing) and fear-mongering rhetoric (sorry, but anyone who advocates killing children creeps me out). In other words, the production encourages debate on subjects, but doesn’t go far enough to convince you of their opinion if you didn’t previously hold it.
Upon reflection of the play, a letter that focuses on Bush’s famous smirk comes to mind. The writer explains both Bush’s proponents and detractors see in his smirk what they want to see. Such is the nature of this play. It’s not going to change any minds, but it will help delineate and clarify whatever beliefs you already have.