Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 13 / 29 March 2018
 

Fun with Don & Mel & Vlad & Lyudmila

Theatre


Donald and Melania Trump (John Fisher and Katie Rubin) have a very complicated relationship in Fisher's new play "Transitions" at Theatre Rhino. Photo: David Wilson
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There's a whole mess of laughs in John Fisher's "Transitions," a new play that often employs the "stick" approach that Vladimir Putin and ex-wife Lyudmila invoke in their discussions on the dirt they have on Donald Trump. "If you throw it hard enough, it sticks," Lyudmila says. "It at least sits there for a while."

It would be hard to describe "Transitions" as a tightly written play, as its plot lurches in different directions that each have uneven sticking quotients. But the collection of scenes that play like (mostly) comic vignettes does have a cumulative effect that lets the lesser moments slide by and the zany mayhem win the day.

More than anything else, the play is about the behind-the-scenes relationship of Donald and Melania. "You're my most beautiful wife, the most beautiful wife I've ever had," the president says in a clumsy attempt to get laid as the first lady does all she can to deflect his attentions. "I like it spontaneous at the appropriate time," she responds.

Meanwhile, in the Kremlin, Putin is fretting about his American counterpart's unpredictability. "It's his job to accommodate me, subtly," Putin says of the current U.S. president. To which Lyudmila retorts, "The last one was subtle. You hated him." "But I didn't fear him," says Putin. "I can't be a bully with Trump, because he'll make a mistake."

There is insightful geopolitical conjecture here, and the play has it serious moments, especially in the scenes in which Donald and Melania argue about their individual commitments to their 11-year-old son. The discussions get into some dicey territory, as Melanie attacks Donald for having wanted another child even though there were genetic dangers that his 60-year-old sperm might not have been up to snuff, with the results a "special needs" child. It's intriguing to hear these rumors discussed, but I'm of the old school that we should leave presidential children out of the fray.

Poor young Barron also gets drawn into a kidnap plot, one of murkily drawn circumstances and an unsatisfactory resolution that pushes Trump to the verge of a nuclear attack on Russia. But in a kind of twist from the theater of the absurd and/or ridiculous, a saucy drag queen named Ruby is sent to Russia as part of a cultural exchange, and she has the street smarts to defuse the situation while handcuffing herself to Putin as part of her performance.

Fisher, the playwright and director, has also challenged himself by playing both Trump and Putin in semi-quick change fashion. With something like cotton balls stuffed in his cheeks, and wearing a wig of Trumpian proportions, Fisher occasionally communicates a Trump facsimile. But he doesn't seem bound by strict impersonation, with Ralph Kramden, borscht belt comics, and childlike antics in his repertoire. His take on Putin isn't nearly as playful, with heavy-duty Russian solemnity at the forefront.

Similarly, the script allows Katie Rubin more room to maneuver as the surprisingly savvy Melania than as the gruff Lyudmila Putin. Rubin communicates both the haughty glamor of the first lady as well as scoring both zingers and tough love directed at her husband. Melania makes an unlikely friend in Ruby, the emissarial drag queen, whom Charles Peoples III plays with confident sass, and who scores with an a cappella performance of the classic Russian ballad "Dark Eyes."

There are other characters floating around, mostly played by multi-cast actors of lower wattage. Morgan Lange does play Ezekial throughout, but this role of an insolent, incompetent, closeted White House assistant doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and Lange's performance doesn't much help to flesh it out.

Considering the abundance of scenes, Fisher's staging ably keeps matters on track even though the tone of the piece is so variable that it's hard to guess what is intentional or a misstep. "Transitions" is a transitory piece of theater to be rendered obsolete when we get a 46th president. But in the moment, there is ramshackle charm and even a few meaningful scratches beneath the surface of life with No. 45.

 

"Transitions" will run through March 17 at the Gateway Theatre. Tickets are $15-$40. Call  (800) 838-3006 or go to therhino.org.

 






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