The year is 2009, Hillary Clinton is our President, and 65,000,000 people have disappeared across the world. “Who are these people who would just disappear without their clothes?” wonders Hillary. And who (or what) is behind this phenomenon? Is it terrorists? Aliens? The Rapture? Female Chief of Staff Morag advises (in a Scottish brogue), “Aliens is the way to go on this. It defuses the Rapture scenario. Some people can’t bear the stigma that the Lord has passed them over. You have to leave them something to believe in. Certainty soothes.”
Thus begins “Day One” of Hillary Agonistes, Nick Salamone’s “modern American fable,” which won Jon Lawrence Rivera the 2007 New York Fringe Award for Outstanding Direction.
By “Day Two,” Hillary is holding a women’s prayer circle in the White House Rose Garden and concerned because “They want to impeach me!”
On “Day Three,” the Secretary of the Treasury arrives, furious that Hillary has blamed the happening on the Rapture. “The seeming Rapture is upon us. That’s all I said,” corrects Hillary. “I can’t have Americans think I believe in alien abductions.” By this time, it’s become clear that among the disappeared are Bill Clinton, “Hanoi Jane” Fonda, and Kim Jong-Il. “What kind of God snatches the Stalinist dictator of North Korea to his bosom?” wonders Hillary.” Besides, “if Bill is among the rapt, no one is going to believe this is the real Rapture.”
“Day Four” brings world renowned physicist Stephen Hawking to the Oval Office. Hillary: “Is this scientifically possible?” Hawking: “It is possible because it happened.”
Pat Robertson is the visitor on “Day Five.” “This is a false rapture,” declares Robertson. “The Bible makes no mistakes. Since no dead have risen, it’s Satan.”
Meanwhile, Hillary has been visited on a daily basis by a female figure covered from head to foot in a pitch black burka, a gas mask covering her veiled nose and mouth. The President goes live on the air to announce, “My fellow Americans. The Antichrists are among us and their number is legion.” (The black figure is billed in the program as “Antichrist.”)
About this time, I have to admit that Hillary Agonistes began to go over my head, way over. When daughter Chelsea arrives on “Day Six” dressed in a burka (she has converted to Islam), troubled that Muslims are being massacred by vengeful Christians, I must admit, I just didn’t get it.
Greater minds than mine have raved about Hillary Agonistes, I concede that my response may reflect my own intellectual shortcomings. Ultimately, though, I could not understand what Salamone was trying to say.
What I can declare with complete confidence is that Priscilla Barnes is absolutely magnificent as Hillary Clinton! Who would have thought that the actress best known for having appeared for three seasons as Suzanne Somers’ replacement on Three’s Company would turn into such a fine character actress? Her Hillary is not an impression or a celebrity impersonation but a real performance. Yes, she bears an uncanny resemblance to the Presidential candidate, especially in her voice, gestures, and body language, but she also proves her dramatic mettle in a climactic scene of tragic proportions. She’s also dryly funny.
Salamone’s gifts as an actor cannot be faulted, and he is his usual dynamic/charismatic self in five very different roles, “General,” “Treasury,” “Hawking,” “Evangelist,” and “Cardinal” (the latter speaking with what seemed to me a spot-on Pilipino accent, though I’m not quite sure if that was his intention). Jean Gilpin as Morag and Rebecca Metz as Chelsea also deliver fine performances.
Rivera is one of our best directors, his talents most recently on display in the outstanding The Dying Gaul, which also featured crackerjack work by Salamone.
John H. Binkley’s interesting set design for Hillary Agonistes consists of a half dozen pillars surrounding a suggestion of the Oval Office; two benches and a desk with newspaper articles pasted to their surfaces. Between scenes, the pillars light up and alarms sound (a striking sound design by Bob Blackburn). As always Kathi O’Donahue’s lighting is excellent.
Priscilla Barnes. Who knew you had it in you? Fans of Three’s Company can’t help but marvel at the woman “Terri Alden” has become.
Playwrights’ Arena at studio/stage, 520 N. Western Avenue, Hollywood.
May 17, 2008