This review of Rich Orloff's Chatting With The Tea Party at The Robert Moss Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Chatting With The Tea Party
Written by Rich Orloff
Directed by Lynnette Barkley
The Robert Moss Theater
440 Lafayette Street
New York, New York 10003
Chatting With The Tea Party is described as "a documentary-style play based on interviews with Tea Party leaders around the country." The play is set from Thanksgiving 2010 through Election Day 2012, by which time one-third of the Tea Party groups, playwright Rich Orloff had been in contact with, were no longer in existence. Chatting With The Tea Party was developed through readings at 16 theaters and is based on more than 63 hours of interviews conducted by Rich Orloff with leaders of over twenty Tea Party groups around the country. Every word the interviewees in the play say comes from those interviews, except for minor changes in grammar and syntax. John E. Brady, Maribeth Graham, and Richard Kent Green play numerous Tea Party members, historical figures, and Rich's liberal friends. Jeffrey C. Wolf appears as a New York playwright named Rich, who speaks in the first person as if he were the author of this play.
In the autumn of 2008, major financial institutions were failing, the stock market plummeted, the real estate bubble burst, millions lost their jobs, and the country elected its first visibly non-white President. Obama proposed a trillion dollar bailout, the country was in debt, and people were scared and angry at crony capitalism and politicians who seemed to represent no one's interests except their own. Tea Party groups formed to shake up the "business as usual" attitude in Washington, D.C. and to better represent the people who were upset about the direction the country was moving in. One could say the Occupy Wall Street movement and other "Occupy" groups reflected the same anger on the left as the Tea Party movement did on the right. In fact, the two groups had much in common.
Rich Orloff's liberal friends viewed Tea Party members as being ignorant, racist rednecks. Believing there must be something more substantive there beyond these caricatures, he set off on a journey to interview Tea Party leaders to find out who these people were. In general, Tea Party members tended to be older, 2/3 male, and nearly 100% white. He learned they didn't only hold different opinions than he did but "lived in different realities." In general, he found most Tea Party groups sprouted from the grassroots; were organized by local activists; were well-intentioned; not racist; friendly and courteous; and that they held varying opinions on a number of issues. The need for people to take more personal responsibility for their decisions, smaller government, lower taxes, adherence to constitutional principles, and an end to corruption, fraud, and crony capitalism were common themes. There were many patriotic symbols and a call to "Take Back America" and, to many, the "T.E.A." in Tea Party was an acronym meaning "Taxed Enough Already." Even though they disagreed, most people he met with were friendly and respectful. The playwright wondered whether his liberal friends would treat him the same if he disagreed with them on important issues.
What Rich Orloff, the playwright, does not understand is that all people of all ideological perspectives develop their opinions on the issues based on their own individual principles, values, and priorities, whether or not they have thought them through. Some people may prioritize life and oppose legal abortions but a man may not disown his daughter who had an abortion because he values his relationship with his daughter more and respects her decision even though he disagrees with it. Even if justifiable homicides go up in a state with a Stand Your Ground law, a citizen concerned about increasing government regulation of the ownership of guns, may not care if more people die. The principle of the private ownership of guns trumps the few extra deaths that might take place. Plus that person may also be concerned about the need for all citizens to be armed to protect themselves from what they view to be a growing, intrusive, totalitarian government. Same thing with public school funding. If you oppose increased funding for public schools, it does not necessarily follow that you oppose quality education. You may believe the problem is more about the eagerness of students to learn than whether there are five more students in any particular classroom. My point is that Rich, the playwright, brought his extreme liberal bias into all the interviews. He would point out a "fact" or an inconsistency and use that "fact" as evidence in his mind that the Tea Party leaders choose to ignore reality. Well, in my opinion, everyone is hypocritical to some extent, and just because one Founding Father may have said something about religion or had a child out of wedlock does not undermine an opinion held regarding that person. One action or statement does not reflect the whole of a person's life and principles. Rich holds different opinions because he applies different core values when evaluating an issue. If we knew enough about everyone holding opinions, we could figure out exactly why and how they came to hold them. It doesn't make a person right or wrong, nor does it make one open-minded or close-minded.
Tea Party groups, in general, tend to be optimistic because they believe their activism can still make a difference. If they were pessimistic, they would feel all is already lost and they had better prepare to survive in a country where chaos reigns, the currency is worthless, and groups roam and riot after the government collapses. Throughout all his travels, it didn't surprise me that Rich, the playwright, hadn't changed any of his own opinions on any issue, just as one of his Tea Party group interviewees said, "and nothing is going to change my mind. Nothing!" He and they are not all that different. It is very hard for people to change their perspectives, principles, and viewpoints. It would require a paradigm shift in their thinking, and that doesn't happen often. Rich did say that now he not only thinks about whether he likes a government program, but also whether someone else's tax money should be spent on that program. The problem is that the government acts like your money belongs to them to spend as it sees fit. It is like a neighbor who always comes by to borrow a cup of sugar but never returns it.
The disenchantment with government spending, bailouts and corruption may no longer be evident in the existence of Tea Party and Occupy groups but the sentiment is still there bubbling just under the surface. This, in my opinion, explains why the anti-establishment Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have been doing so well in the polls. Whether they win the nominations of their respective political parties or not, they represent the anger and frustration that fueled the original Tea Party and Occupy movements. While the playwright's smug, leftist, superior attitude may annoy you throughout the play, the actual interviews will provide you with a variety of perspectives held by Tea Party leaders. Chatting With The Tea Party is informative and insightful!
Chatting With The Tea Party plays Thursdays, February 4, 11, 18 at 7:00 p.m.; Fridays, February 5,12, 19 at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays, February 6, 13, 20 at 8:00 p.m.; and Sundays, February 7, 14, 21 at 3:00 p.m.. Tickets are $18.00 and can be purchased at www.ChattingWithTheTeaParty.com