Call it raucous or crass. Call it a timely meditation on modern politics. Though only a handful of people attended the opening night at the Visual Arts Collective, Alley Repertory Theater's The Totalitarians
is first and foremost one of the most laugh-out-loud hilarious plays being performed in Boise today. It's also an amazing kickoff to the company's 2016-17 season.
Francine (Courtney Bohl) faces a difficult choice: Accept her husband's entreaties to have his child at the expense of her career, or swing for the fences with bird-brained candidate Penny, played with almost Tim Curry-esque glee by Jenny Sternling. When a Francine-penned "Freedom from Fear" speech launches Penny as a serious candidate for state office, her manipulative and authoritarian tendencies—not to mention
the comedy—kick into high gear.
is prophetic. Selected for production more than a year ago by Alley Rep, it's totally topical when it comes to today's exhausting political climate. Penny is a pitch-perfect analog for Donald Trump, down to the "great hair" and vindictiveness; and Francine is a case study in the work/family problem faced by millions of working American women. Husband, doctor and budding conspiracy theorist Jeffrey (Gordon Hendrickson) is a portrait in how ordinary, successful people can become radicalized. Writer Peter Sinn Nachtrieb smartly points out that in order for there to be political satire, people and relationships must be broader than the political divide.
Despite its tight plot, difficult themes and strong characters, the play steers clear of being judgmental, opening the door for the hilarity that kept the audience laughing from curtain to curtain. From the ridiculous conspiracy theory YouTube videos cut by the unhinged Ben (John Adkins) to Penny's campaign headquarters, complete with archery equipment and a framed photo of Henry Kissinger, The Totalitarians
revels in milking the details for every possible yuk.
More than the usual amount of labor went into the production of The Totalitarians
. According to Director Justin Ness, actors and crew prepared two versions of the play for production at VAC in order to comply with Idaho liquor laws prohibiting the sale of alcohol anywhere nudity or simulated sex acts are staged. Several scenes in the play depict homo- and heterosexual sex, and one scene contains a proctological exam—all of which may have caused the play to run afoul of state law.
That was before a lawsuit was filed
on behalf of Alley Repertory Theater, Anne McDonald of Frankly Frankie Burlesque and the VAC by ACLU-Idaho and others. Its aim: Strike down the law, which plaintiffs said infringed their First Amendment right to free speech. The Idaho State Police quickly settled, and
put the law on hold, allowing the production of the play in its current form. While ACLU-Idaho and others have hailed the settlement as a victory, the suit is still technically active until the Idaho Legislature amends or strikes down the statute.
Prior to the injunction, Ness explained why the lawsuit was key to performing the play as it was intended by its author.
"We want to have our freedoms and we understand that those come at a cost, or that they have a price," Ness said. "No freedom is totally free, so when there’s a law in place, of course we want to follow it, but we do want to challenge the law and say, ‘Look, this is not Constitutional. This is not allowing freedom of speech and expression."