This is a preview article. The show opens on September 8th.
If you’re one of those people who sit at home watching 24 hour television news, whether CNN, MSNBC or Fox, if you shout at the screen when something upsets you, feeling powerless to make your voice heard, have I got a deal for you!
California Stage is putting George With. Bush on trial for malfeasance in office, dereliction of duty, war crimes, and treason.
“A Patriot Act: The Trial of George With. Bush,” by Todd Blakesley, opens on September 8 at The Space, 2509 R Street at 25th and will run through October 7.
Ray Tatar, Artistic Director of California Stage says that the play is like a "Town Hall", where the community airs its feelings.
“There is no denying that many Americans feel cut off from the president, while others feel betrayed,” he says. “A Patriot Act” will give some audience members an opportunity to choose to join one of three juries and others may actually testify to help determine if the president has improperly used his office, violated the constitution, or whether he is innocent of all charges.” This is a play which will appeal to everyone, whether you support the president or call for his impeachment.
California Stage is no stranger to controversial subjects. “If you look at the plays that we’ve done over the last 10 years you’ll notice that there are things that happen to do with social justice, equality of women, war,” Tatar pointed out. Recent productions have included a play about the difficulty of a returning Iraqi vet, and a play about the life of Jeannette Renkin, the first female Congressperson, who voted against war in 1917.
“A Patriot Act” has only been presented once before, in San Diego. When Tatar was offered the opportunity to bring the play to Sacramento, he jumped at the chance. He contacted Davisite Mark Heckman to ask if he wanted to co-direct. Heckman was intrigued to do something he had never done before – total immersion theater. He explains that there is a framework and that some of the play is scripted, but the juries and most of the witnesses are audience members who volunteer to be in those positions. Additionally, during the course of the show observers will be encouraged to contribute to the proceedings, if they desire. “Those parts are definitely unscripted,” Heckman says. “It’s like working without a net.”
Adding to the realism will be the prosecution and defense teams. The cast includes four real-life lawyers who are also actors. The lead attorney for the Defense is Jeff Kravitz a noted local authority on issues of Constitutional Law and Civil Rights, Michael Garabedian backs him up. The Prosecution team includes Auburn Attorney, William A. Bergen backed up by Tiffany Schultz. Supporting actor attorneys include Athena Bergen (daughter of William A. Bergen), and Mark Stone, who works in Claims Adjustment, where he does civil litigation. “I deal with attorneys probably every day of the week and I have cases that go to trial.”
Athena Bergen feels she’s been preparing for this role most of her life. “In high school I went to Washington D.C. on a trip for young leaders. We observed Congress. We had to pass Senate bills. Then I went to Davis and participated in rallies and protests for the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Now I am doing this show that obvious has a political bent and it’s just really exciting to watch the progression.”
Progression has also taken place with Blakesley’s original script as well. “It’s significantly rewritten now,” explained Heckman. “This will be much different than what was produced in San Diego last fall. Different because the playwright, through doing the production before, learned a few things about what will work better and of course much, much different because events have surpassed what he’d written before.”
How do the actors, who, in real life, are not exactly supporters of the president, approach their roles? “People think they have the facts and they’ve made up their mind, which is a problem we have with politics right now,” says Athena. “The way I’ve crafted my character, I am a thinking human being, but I’m just a little over the top on some issues.” She found that after studying the facts of the case, and doing a lot of research, she was able to present an honest, credible defense of the president for the crimes of which he has been accused.
The role of prosecution attorney was a perfect one for Mark Stone. Long before this acting opportunity came along, the actor wanted to write his own play and started reading a lot of the books about the Bush administration, but he became so depressed he put them aside. He had collected over 30 books either on the war in Iraq or the presidency and the issues that led up to the war. “I think you could spend the rest of your life, or at least my life, researching this issue,” he says. It gives him an excellent background to question witnesses.
“We should have a very educated audience,” says Athena. “There will be some individuals who are going to be little fireballs when they want to be witnesses. They’re going to give us a run for our money.”
The actors and directors hope that “A Patriot Act” is going to vitalize its audiences. “Once I became involved, I started getting really excited again and realizing that I have a part in the system and I can be involved and I’m going to do what I can, so I’m hoping that will happen to the audience. People might come thinking ‘Oh–who cares? We did that in Iraq; we did this in Afghanistan; I’m not interested any more’ and they come to this and it lights a fire under them again. Hopefully we won’t have people just not caring. Apathy is the worst.”
“It’s not a lecture or just a debate, it’s more interesting than that because it’s in this high stakes courtroom situation, but by the same token it’s not lightweight theater. It’s not a fluffy comedy,” said Heckman.
“People will feel like they’re involved. They have a personal stake. It’s not just something that is happening ‘over there.’ This is happening to me. I’m involved.”
While the actors continue preparing for their opening night, co-director Tatar is out shopping for “good looking realistic plastic uzis” to add yet another layer of realism.
“A Patriot Act” is not a play that observers will leave behind at the theater as they drive home.
$10 previews, Aug. 29-30, Sept 6,7
Opens Sept 8 runs thru Oct 7
Fridays and Saturdays 8 p.m., Sunday 2 p.m.
General Admission $19, Groups of 7 or more $12
Students, Seniors, SARTA members, $15
Opening night fund raiser, $75 single, $125 couple (includes dinner)
California Stage at The Space
2509 R St., R at 25th in Midtown Sacramento