All The Donald’s Men: ‘The Trump Card’ and ‘Angry Alan’ at Aspen Fringe Festival
June 8, 2017
If You Go …
What: Aspen Fringe Festival
Where: Aspen District Theatre and Black Box Theatre
When: Friday, June 9 through Monday, June 12, 7:30 p.m. nightly
How much: $20 to $150
Tickets: Wheeler Opera House box office; http://www.aspenshowtix.com
2017 ASPEN FRINGE FESTIVAL
Friday, June 9, 7: 30 p.m.: Soulskin Dance, “Satin & Swing,”
Saturday, June 10 and Sunday, June 11: “The Trump Card” and “Angry Alan”
Monday, June 11: “Linda”
More info: http://www.aspenfringefestival.org
Wearing a spray tan, a suit, a big red tie and a jaundice-colored wig while walking through downtown on a recent afternoon, actor and Aspen Fringe Festival founder David Ledingham drew a crowd. Passersby raised their phones to snap pictures and videos of this man in Donald Trump drag, rubbernecking as if encountering a car wreck or a celebrity.
Ledingham is taking Trump to the stage this weekend at the 2017 Fringe Fest, trying to figure out why we can't take our eyes off of him, staging a new adaptation of monologuist Mike Daisey's "The Trump Card."
Daisey — the comedian behind "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" — staged the play last year during the campaign season, aiming to make sense of the Trump phenomenon and its links to racism, reality TV and anti-globalization. Daisey stopped performing the show on the eve of Election Day, presuming — like most Americans — that Trump would lose and become a footnote to history. In the wake of the president's shocking electoral college victory, the comedian called on any interested actors and playwrights to carry on "The Trump Card" with their own versions.
Ledingham decided to take a crack at it.
"As I started working in it, I realized that this is an amazing opportunity," Ledingham said. "There's never a time when you get to work with a playwright who says, 'Here's the script — cut it, change it, add, subtract and do whatever you want.' … I realized, 'When am I going to have this opportunity to take something and make it my own?'"
Ledingham said he initially planned to simply trim its running time and cut some of the outdated campaign stuff. But as he got into the script, he went deeper than he expected down the Trump rabbit hole. He found himself researching Trump's relationship with the notorious Roy Cohn and incorporating that in an attempt to find Trump's character. He read widely in the new and voluminous journalistic field of Trump studies, bringing in elements of Matt Taibbi's "Insane Clown President" and the fierce recent writings of Dan Rather. He incorporated bits and pieces from the swirl of absurd news since Inauguration Day — from Comey to "covfefe."
He also added a multimedia aspect, with video, music and photos. In keeping with the dark humor of the piece, he added a rendition of The Beatles' "With a Little Help from My Friends" referencing the alleged election tampering by the Russians.
And, yes, Ledingham does an impression and does his best Trumpian accent for portions of the show, but for the most part he's a narrator — or, in the words of his script, a "therapist-monologuist." Part improvisatory rant and part absurd comedy, the one-man play is an exercise in understanding Trump's political rise.
"This is not about Trump-bashing," Ledingham said. "This is an examination looking at how it is that Donald Trump is our president. What were the pieces that made this happen? In our society, in Trump's family, in past presidents and the media?"
Running less than an hour, "The Trump Card" is sharing a double bill of one-man plays Saturday and Sunday night at the Black Box Theatre with Penelope Skinner's "Angry Alan."
While "The Trump Card" directly takes on Trump, "Angry Alan" looks at one of the societal trends that propelled him to the White House. The play — making its world premiere this weekend — looks at the so-called "men's rights movement," which has become a vocal force online. (The men's rights crowd, for example, led the recent charge of protest against the all-woman Alamo Drafthouse screening of "Wonder Woman" and trolled actress Leslie Jones over the female "Ghostbusters" movie last year).
A critically acclaimed British playwright, Skinner wrote the new piece for actor and Fringe co-artistic director Donald Sage Mackay for the festival. For this post-Trump Fringe Fest, the pair was interested in looking at the kind of working-class white American men who rallied around Trump, chanting "lock her up" and sporting "Make America Great Again" caps. As the playwright and actor brainstormed, Skinner found a men's rights blog online, filled with misogynistic ravings against women. She imagined a man falling under its influence, and "Angry Alan" was born. The one-man play features Mackay as Roger, a frustrated American of our current moment who discovers Angry Alan's blog online.
"It's quite complex and interesting and there's so much in it to explore," Skinner said of the men's rights philosophy. "So the play is a man exploring these ideas himself for the first time. … He's really just discovering these things with us."
Added Mackay: "He's a guy who feels left behind and he's saying, 'What's happening?'"
The festival will close Monday night with another offering from Skinner: a Fringe Lab reading of an Americanized version of her play "Linda," which looks at the contemporary face of feminism and recently finished a lauded run off-Broadway at the Manhattan Theatre Club.
Ledingham's version of "The Trump Card" and Skinner's "Angry Alan" may also have a life beyond Aspen. The Fringe creative team is hoping to bring both to next year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Ideally, they want audiences from both sides of the aisle to come together for this politically charged double bill.
"My hope is that we'll reach the person in the audience who might feel some reflection of their experience, or they'll see something in the play they've struggled with or wondered about," Skinner said. "And then they might have a conversation about it."
After the election, Ledingham and Mackay knew they needed to tackle the Trump question at Fringe Fest. Ledingham sees the pairing of "The Trump Card" and "Angry Alan" as an effort to unite a ferociously polarized society.
"Live theater is a place people come together — they have to sit in that audience and they have to engage with you," he said. "They can sit there and disagree. It's important for people to grapple with these issues in a place like that. And I believe at the end of an evening of these shows, people will feel closer to each other. That's important with that's happening in our country right now."
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