A $110,000 vicuña wool suit may be all that stands between business tycoon-turned-reality TV host-turned Republican Presidential nominee Kurt Seaman and the White House in Jon Robin Baitz’s ripped-from-today’s-headlines Vicuña, a Kirk Douglas Theatre World Premiere drama that proves as hilarious as it is gripping and talk-provoking.
Now, with only three weeks remaining before make-it-or-break-it Debate Number Three, the Republican outsider has turned to Jewish-Iranian émigré Anselm Kassar (Brian George) for the kind of needle-and-thread solution to his pre-election woes that only the tailor to Presidents past (and possibly future) can provide.
Assisting at Atélier Anselm De Paris is the master couturier’s handsome young Harvard-educated Marxist apprentice Amir (Ramiz Monsef), whose father, Anselm’s longtime Muslim best friend, came to America too in search of the freedoms and opportunities promised “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” till Muslim/Mexican-baiting Seamans and his minions came along.
Working side-by-side with Kurt is his daughter Srilanka (Samantha Sloyan), Dad’s campaign manager and staunchest supporter (at least when he is being the best version of himself, which isn’t all that often these days).
If this sounds like an only-the-names-have-been-changed look at Election 2016 (that is assuming Ivanka had been enlisted to manage Donald’s run for office), it pretty much is, and much of Vicuña’s appeal is the fly-on-the-wall glimpse it provides into the mind of a quite possibly mentally deranged Presidential would-be.
Like his real-life counterpart, playwright Baitz’s fictional candidate’s motives for seeing America’s highest office are suspect. Like Donald Trump, Kurt Seamans too tends to tailor his often recklessly off-the-cuff remarks to whatever audience he’s speaking too. And like his Doppelganger, Kurt has raised the hackles of a Republican establishment who see him as having hijacked their beloved party and turned it over to a mob of angry, frustrated illiterates bent on destruction of all that true conservatives hold dear.
If it’s not already obvious, the latest from the author of Other Desert Cities and the creator of TV’s Brothers And Sisters could not be more timely, so much so that this reviewer can only marvel at Center Theatre Group’s (pardon my French) balls in opening Vicuña less than two weeks before Election Day 2016.
One thing is absolutely certain. Vicuña could not be getting a more electrifying World Premiere than CTG’s, beginning with Robert Egan’s impressive, incisive direction.
As Kurt, Broadway legend Groener has created his very own sociopath, complexities, contradictions, and all, the sum of these parts adding up to a lollapalooza of a performance that never once never once resorts to aping Trump.
Sloyan is equally splendid as Srilanka, a character made even more fascinating by her “what-if-ness.” What if Ivanka were indeed her father’s campaign manager, and if so, how would a loving daughter react to seeing the man she has respected all her life go bonkers before her eyes? (One can only hope Ms. Trump is even half the person Sloyan’s richly rendered Srilanka is.)
George is understated perfection as Anselm, and Linda Gehringer’s Kitty Finch-Gibbon, who shows up in Act Two as a woman whose role in the election I’ll leave it to you to discover, is as always nothing less than superb.
Vicuña could not look more stunning on scenic designer Kevin Depinet’s elegantly appointed atélier set. Laura Bower’s character-matching costumes are highlighted by some pricey-looking men’s (and women’s) suits, a number of them in various stages of construction. Tom Ontiveros’s striking lighting and sound designer Karl Fredrik Lundeberg’s dramatic original music complete a Broadway-caliber production design.
Whether you experience Vicuña while still sweating what November 8th will bring or opt to see it post-Election Day, do not miss Jon Robin Baitz’s latest. Contemporary theater doesn’t get more thrilling—or topical—than Vicuña.
Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City.
October 30, 2016
Photos: Craig Schwartz