This review of Rich Orloff's Chatting With The Tea Party at The Robert Moss Theater was written by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg 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 based on interviews Rich Orloff, the playwright, conducted with leaders of Tea Party groups around the country. Driven by a desire to figure out, "Who are these people?", Rich Orloff ventured where no New York liberal playwright and journalist had gone before. Over a period of two years, he attended more than 20 Tea Party events and collected over 60 hours of interviews with local leaders, constantly surprised (and at times stunned) by what he experienced. Orloff's journalistic experience in writing for national newspapers and magazines is evident because he knows what questions to ask to solicit comments and responses. His sense of humor and wit abounds throughout the play sometimes at his good-humored expense when his pre-conceptions about the Tea Party do not pan out. Woody Allen-like, he comments on his progress, his comprehension, his research, and his encounters. The playwright discovered he had no idea what he was getting into. He also shows the willingness to change his opinions about members of the Tea Party. The play is well-crafted because it went through 16 staged readings.
Lynnette Barkley, the director, managed to bring out the best in the actors and had them interact with one another as they portrayed a variety of liberals, historical figures, and Tea Party members. A simple change of gesture or the addition of an item of clothing transformed them into different people. Featured in the cast are John E. Brady (Newsies: The Musical and The Lion King on Broadway), Maribeth Graham (two-time Carbonell Award winner), and Richard Kent Green (the title role in Einstein Off-Broadway). Jeffrey C. Wolf, who portrays the playwright is part of the ensemble rather than dominating the play thanks to the skillful direction of Lynnette Barkley. After all, the play is about the Tea Party, not the playwright-journalist. Just as Norman Jewison chose Chaim Topol, instead of Zero Mostel, to play Tevye in the film version of Fiddler On The Roof, due to his concern Mostel would ham it up and dominate the film, Lynnette Barkley has done the same thing with Rich Orloff. Thus, we don't have four actors but dozens of characters that come alive that might be your next door neighbor or your friend.
The play concerns liberal Rich Orloff's interactions with Tea Party people and his willingness to admit that much of what he thought about the Tea Party was incorrect. Liberals within the Democratic Party establishment and conservatives within the Republican Party establishment treated Tea Party members as a common enemy dominated by ignorant yahoos instead of treating them as an independent group of citizens who were tired of being lied to by the professional politicians, news journalists, apparatchiks, and their hangers-on. Both looked the other way as the IRS attacked the tax-exempt status of some of the Tea Party organizations.
This failure to understand the Tea Party and to destroy it as an independent third force in American politics has given us Bernie Sanders, the Socialist running with the Democratic Party, and Donald Trump, the ever-shifting political chameleon running with the Republican Party. The American people have reached the point where they no longer trust that the political professionals and office holders will do right by them. I remember liberal and conservative friends attacking the Tea Party through ignorant supposition and mythology instead of learned knowledge.
Rich Orloff discovers the Tea Party patriots to be an amorphous group of moderates who seek to reconcile liberty with security. While they view Social Security, Medicare, and Unemployment Insurance as being unconstitutional and undermining the independence of the American people, they are willing to take advantage of those programs as citizens entitled to those benefits and for their practical usefulness. They are not hypocrites who say one thing and do another but seek to harmonize the everyday contradictions of life in the United States. Again and again, Orloff scorches his fellow liberals for their mythologies about the Tea Party and their failure to understand what the Tea Party people actually believe in. The conservatives need their own version of Rich Orloff to set them right.
Rich Orloff has a gift for transforming philosophy into interesting dialogue. Chatting With The Tea Party reminds me of Theodore White's The Making Of The President. White's book was also turned into a documentary. Both works are practical guides for understanding the politics of the times they were written in. In both cases, you will be enlightened by journalists who were able to discern the political and philosophical currents around them.
The sets and lights were designed by Nick Francone, with costumes by Orli Nativ, and the projections designed by Paul Girolamo enhance the individual characters portrayed by each actor as well as the different geographical locations depicted, whether it be Idaho or Georgia.
The Robert Moss Theater is a comfortable, well-lit, well-heated theater located at 440 Lafayette Street in Manhattan. Refreshments were sold from vending machines at reasonable prices between $1.00 and $2.00. The bathrooms were comfortable and convenient to use. The schedule for Chatting With The Tea Party is the following: Saturday, January 30 at 8 p.m.; Sunday, January 31st at 3 p.m.; Monday, February 1 at 7 p.m. (Opening Night); and then Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. through Sunday, February 21st. Tickets cost $18.00 and can be purchased at www.ChattingWithTheTeaParty.com