A table. A chair. Two bottles of water. An iPad.
A man enters with a stack of papers. He sits. He turns on the iPad, reads a little, sighs, and begins an 86-minute profanity-fueled tirade about Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump.
On Sunday night, Manbites Dog Theater premiered a staged reading of The Trump Card, adapted from a monologue by Mike Daisey, a monologist who has accomplished some impressive tasks in his career: a 29-night live theatrical “novel,” which totals 40 hours of solo performance, appearing in abandoned theaters in post-communist Tajikistan, a 30-hour theatrical monologue adapted from Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, and an entirely improvised full-length piece. If he can manage to hold an audience’s attention for such extended periods of time, an 86-minute piece about Donald Trump should not stretch him too much.
Mike Daisey, in an act that can be viewed as either generous or egomaniacal, released The Trump Card online earlier this year, along with an open source performance license. Essentially, if you want to stage it, go right ahead.
Manbites Dog co-founder and artistic director Jeff Storer took this opportunity to stage, with some adaptations, this extremely topical piece of writing. Theater is rarely this up-to-the-minute and instantly relatable.
Manbites Dog regular Carl Martin is performing this piece, reading occasionally from the iPad, seated at a table. He requires a towel to wipe his brow from the sweat that he exerts. When Martin entered, we weren’t quite sure whether he was meant to be Donald Trump or simply speak about Donald Trump. He looks oddly Trump-like, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if he transformed into the braggadocious demagogue.
The monologue gets off to a slightly rocky start, explicitly stating the intention and the structure of the piece in a less-than-engaging bit of talk. The audience took a few minutes to get warmed up — not quite sure what we were getting into — but pretty soon the heads started nodding (“Oh my God, I hadn’t realized that; he’s absolutely right”) and the laughs started to roll from the crowd (“I cannot believe he just said that Ted Cruz is a lizard in human skin”).
Daisey’s monologue is highly autobiographical, and references his experiences growing up with a racist grandfather — making connections to Trump’s own heritage. The piece is broken down into sections, each with a different focus. Trump’s family, his communication style, The Apprentice, lizard creature Ted Cruz, and Trump’s connections with the brutal, snarling Roy Cohn — buddy of Joseph McCarthy and early mentor-advisor to The Donald — are just a few of the topics covered.
Carl Martin strikes a balance between quiet contemplation and spitting, sweating fury — channeling Peter Finch in the 1976 film Network. Early on, Martin feels a bit presentational (possibly opening-night stiffness), but he soon swings into a conversational style and hits his rhythmic stride. He engages us in a dialogue, albeit one-sided; and we are enraptured by his performance and by Daisey’s astute observations.
I can’t help thinking how much power lies in the words that cannot be expressed without movement, and Jeff Storer’s decision to keep Martin seated is not always effective, but staged readings are a challenge in that sense. An hour and a half is a long time to talk.
This piece is certainly worth seeing, and a rare opportunity to see something brand new and somewhat imperfect. Don’t expect any theatrical razzle-dazzle, mind you. This is pure storytelling, plain and simple. It’s captivating, pertinent, and funny as hell.
This piece is certainly in the R-rated zone for language.
Staged readings of The Trump Card continue through Nov. 7th, so you have plenty of opportunities to make your way down to the Manbites Dog Theater.
SECOND OPINION: Oct. 5th Durham, NC Five Points Star review by Kate Dobbs Ariail: https://thefivepointsstar.com/2016/10/05/manbites-dog-plays-the-trump-card/.
Manbites Dog Theater presents THE TRUMP CARD by Mike Daisey, a staged reading directed by Jeff Storer and performed by Carl Martin at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 9, 10, 16, 17, and 30; and Nov. 1, 2, 6, and 7 at 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.
TICKETS: $10 ($6 students/youth).
BOX OFFICE: 919-682-3343 or https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?actions=7&p=1.
2016-17 SEASON: http://manbitesdogtheater.org/2016-17-season/.
BLOG (The Upstager): http://theupstager.wordpress.com/.
The Trump Card (monologue): http://mikedaisey.blogspot.com/ (official web page).
The Script: http://bit.ly/trumpcard_script.
Mike Daisey (American monologist, actor, and author): http://mikedaisey.blogspot.com/ (official website), https://www.facebook.com/mike.daisey (Facebook page), http://twitter.com/mdaisey (Twitter page), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Daisey (Wikipedia).
Jeff Storer (Manbites Dog artistic director): https://theaterstudies.duke.edu/people/jeff-m-storer (Duke Theater Studies bio) and https://www.facebook.com/jeff.storer.9 (Facebook page).
Dustin K. Britt is a Triangle native, holds a master’s degree in special education from East Carolina University, and teaches locally. He can be spotted all over the Triangle area either painting scenery or chewing o n it. He has received local theater award nominations for doing both. He is a devoted cinephile and author of Hold the Popcorn, a movie blog on Facebook. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment He can also be found via his official Facebook page and on Twitter @dkbritt85.