Bug Theatre's Iraq War, the Musical takes a bite out of George W. Bush
Iraq War, the Musical! has what so many political satires lack: teeth. It's a sustained and ultimately serious attack on the Bush administration's war and the lies told by Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney. Writer-creator Paul Cross has clearly done a great deal of research on the topic, and through skits and songs, he tells the story of a president determined to invade another country and idiotically unprepared to deal with the consequences. He sketches the profound corruption of this presidency and the way it has distorted policy in order to enrich its associates, as well as the longstanding ties between the Bush and bin Laden families.
A clever song called "I Hate You" underlines the historic rivalry and loathing between bin Laden and his supposed co-conspirator, Saddam Hussein. Other funny (or should-be funny) moments: Bush communes with God and Jesus; Dick Cheney feasts on roasted kitten; Colin Powell makes the case for war at the United Nations with the aid of crayon drawings by Bush; Richard Clarke attempts to stop the rush to war and gets tasered by Rumsfeld; Condi Rice vamps sexily as she displays the color codes intended to terrify Americans.
This show has been mounted to coincide with the Democratic National Convention, and it's good to see satire doing what it's supposed to do: attack the powerful and bring malfeasance to light — especially at a time when serious satire seems almost dead in America and so many local theaters are mounting nonpartisan political shows. What is the point of nonpartisan satire? Satire is meant to sting. And while some critics charge that productions like this one preach primarily to the converted, speaking as one of the converted, it's nice to relax and listen while someone preaches what I believe. Parody doesn't exist solely to convince doubters; it also serves a useful purpose when it encourages and unifies those of us who're already on board — and who knew coming in that the Iraq War is one of history's crimes.
But though I expected to howl with cheerful laughter through Iraq War, I didn't. The problem is that it teeters continually between juvenilia and brilliance. Although some of the acting is amateurish, Matthew Jordan Kyle is a convincing George Bush and has the president's voice and manner down pat. Galloway Allbright is interesting both as Tony Blair and as George Bush the elder, not because he mimics his subjects with Kyle's expertise, but because he presents his versions with flair. There's also fun vamping and dancing courtesy of choreographer Lauren Ponder, and the songs, most of them by Christopher Carey, are often clever and occasionally downright inspired. But some of the jokes are really dumb, like the lyric that says our pants will fill with "poo" when the color code turns "blue," and a lot of the numbers go on far too long. At one point, Tony Blair attempts to give Bush a history lesson, explaining what happened when the British took Baghdad in 1917 without understanding the complexities on the ground, while Bush sits on the floor playing with war toys. The scene is apt and funny, and a great device for explaining some historical background, but it just doesn't know when to stop. The U.N. bit goes from humorous to dopey when Powell hits the ambassador from Uzbekistan. The song and dance in which Saddam attempts to reclaim his place among the other corrupt leaders but is constantly shunted aside would be inspired in its grotesquery if only the execution were cleaner. And what's the point of having Hussein emerge from his spider hidey-hole to perform a series of yoga exercises? Aren't there more penetrating points to be made about this grandiose dictator's transformation into a wild-haired and ultimately doomed madman?
With tough editing and more consistency in the performances, this could be one hell of a show.
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