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George and Martha

a Satire
by Karen Finley

VENUE : 7 Stages [WEBSITE]
ID# 1464

SHOWING : January 12, 2006 - January 15, 2006



It’s hard work to be in the public eye every day. Say you tried some drugs in college, or say you attacked your neighbor with a chafing dish. You wouldn’t want the world to know. When George and Martha step out of Edward Albee’s "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf" and into a dingy present day hotel room for a tryst, they come to bear a striking resemblance to a certain president and a certain interior design diva. If there are two icons of America in the early 21st century, it’s "George and Martha", naked (and we do mean naked) and uncensored.

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Playing it Safe
by Dedalus
Friday, January 13, 2006
To begin with a disclaimer. Politically, I am a passionate liberal, the kind of person Boortz, Hannity, et al, tell you is a threat to “Life as we know it,” the kind of person who thinks very little of the current administration, and would vote for the proverbial yellow dog before any of this rabid lot.

Artistically, I am also usually liberal, preferring edgy “Fringe” type productions in favor of more tried and true Theatrical Cash Cows (I say “usually” because I am also second to none in my love of Musical Theatre.) I am not skeptical of nudity on stage, and in fact, rather enjoy it.

I say this to show that I should be the perfect audience for Karen Finley’s political piece “George and Martha,” an edgy romp in which President Bush and Martha Stewart cavort naked in a cheesy hotel room during 2004’s Republican convention, just before Ms. Stewart is carted off to the hoosegow.

So why, fifteen minutes into the show, was I flat-out bored? In a nutshell, the “edginess” was safe caricature we’ve seen and heard a million times before, the “romp” was seldom funny, and, worst of all, the performances were flat, missing a million opportunities for real conflict, real emotion, and real political satire. It was, in short, a 60-second Air America sketch stretched to 90 endless minutes carrying the pretentions of theatre and High Art.

I don’t want to minimize the importance of Ms. Finley’s body of work before this. She was one of the “NEA Four,” a group of artists who sued the NEA for having their grants cut off under the guise of “setting standards of decency.” Her solo performances, by reputation, were truly edgy extravaganzas which skewered hypocrisy, censorship, false standards of decency, even the very definition of art. Close to the end of “George and Martha,” Ms. Finley has a rant that is truly wonderful – filled with anger, energy, and poetry, it shows what might have happened if she had chosen to make this a solo piece.

Martha Stewart is, in fact, the more interesting character here. President Bush is cartoon-thin, nothing more than the worst caricatures we hear every day. He isn’t a real character, but a buffoon mouthing inanities and flitting from shallow emotion to shallow emotion at the whim of the plot, rather than acting or reacting like a living, breathing human. Neal Medlyn is able to breathe occasional life into a moment or two, but, I suspect, no one could bring to life the straw-man political construct Ms. Finley’s script demands.

To make matters worse, with Martha Stewart, last night’s opening performance showed us a Karen Finley who, frankly, did not have the acting chops to play the character her script created. Her line readings sounded like someone reading a script, her pace was dreadfully slow, her emotional “highs” were at the same level as her “lows” (except for that rant at the end – would that her whole performance had that spark). It could have been opening-night ennui or even over-familiarity (Ms. Finley and Mr. Medlyn have been performing this piece for a year) – in any case, it was deadly to the show.

On a script level, there were also a few mis-steps – things that sound like good ideas on paper, but didn’t translate well to the stage. Chief among these is the body paint worn by the performers. Ms. Finley is painted in black and white stripes (convict suit) and Mr. Medlyn is, of course, in red, white, and blue (more Texas State Flag than Old Glory). While this is good for a laugh at the start, it carries little or no emotional weight, and, in fact, becomes a burden when the paint rubs off on the set, the props, and the actors.

Second, the overt references to Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” only underscore the fact that Ms. Finley is no Edward Albee, and only remind us of a play we wish we were seeing, instead of this one. It reminds us that Albee gave us a George and Martha who were real people with a real history and real passions, and show us the flatness of Ms. Finley’s contrived constructs. A sense that these two ever cared about each other, that they had a real emotional life outside this room, would have gone miles to making us care about the banal political sloganeering they spend all evening spouting. It would have given the ending some heft. It would have made us care why we were spending this time with them.

What does work is the TV set with a constant stream from the 2004 convention, including commercials. We see the real Bush twins silently talking to the crowds as the fictional President searches (in all the wrong places) for Osama Bin Laden. At the end, we’re left with the image of the fictional President standing by a TV showing the real Laura Bush. I wish more had been made of this – conversations with the characters on screen (or at least references to them). Instead, it is just another prop, and any plot juxtapositions I saw were probably the result of luck and the timing of the performance.

Considering the real potential for political theatricalizing here, as well as Ms. Finley’s history of taking chances, it is doubly maddening that, now, when we need it most, Ms. Finley would rather play it safe, giving us “been there seen that” caricatures in place of real characters and dialog that skewer real political villains who desperately need to be skewered.

-- Brad Rudy (


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