When We Go Upon the Sea

At InterAct Theatre, George W. Bush’s political legacy is explored as he awaits trial in the Netherlands.

By J. Cooper Robb
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted May. 4, 2010

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Commander in grief: George W. Bush (Conan McCarty, left) is aided by Piet (Peter Schmitz) on the evening before his war-crimes trial

Photo by PW Staff

Whether you love George W. Bush or hate him, you’ll be fascinated by the portrait of the ex-president in Lee Blessing’s daring political drama When We Go Upon the Sea, which is receiving a thoroughly compelling world-premiere production from InterAct Theater Company.

The first play commissioned by Inter-Act as part of its new play commission program, Blessing imagines the ex-president awaiting his trial for war crimes at the Hague. It’s the evening before the trial begins and George (Conan McCarty) is spending the night in an immaculately decorated and slightly eerie hotel room overlooking the sea on the Dutch coast.

Bush is joined by Piet (an enigmatic Peter Schmitz), a Dutchman who appears to be the hotel’s concierge. Unlike Bush, who believes he was destined to rule, Piet describes himself as “average in every way.” His sole mission is to give George “one last perfect evening” before the trial commences. To that end he has acquired the services of a mysterious young woman named Anna-Lisa (Kim Carson in a terrific performance). Anna-Lisa is there to satisfy the ex-president’s every need, a task she is honored to perform.

Under Paul Meshejian’s exacting direction, McCarty portrays Bush as a punk, but not necessarily a monster. He’s aggressive and frighteningly assured. A decisive man with no sense of moral direction, he is addicted to power and its privileges.

Taking a kill-or-be-killed approach to foreign policy, the ex-president is unremorseful about his role in the deaths of American military personnel and Iraqis. He takes full responsibility for the actions of his administration, fuming when Dick Cheney is mentioned. His only regret: “I didn’t get around to nuking our allies.”

“I never did anything without the support of the American people,” says Bush, and he has ample evidence to support his claim. He points out that the Iraq war received overwhelming congressional support and that he was reelected (albeit narrowly) during the darkest days of the conflict.

In this dark and disquieting play, Blessing isn’t concerned with simple Bush bashing. His purpose in Sea is to investigate the relationship between rulers and those they rule.

Unlike many Americans, Piet and Anna-Lisa worship Bush. He isn’t the first powerful and morally questionable leader they’ve had in the room and they treat him with reverence. They live only to serve rulers who—in their view—shoulder the burdens of power.

“You know what I like about the sea?” Bush asks Piet. “I like to walk on it.” At the end of Blessing’s drama, we are left with the uneasy feeling that perhaps America doesn’t want a man of the people in the Oval Office, but rather an omnipotent ruler with an insatiable thirst for power.

When We Go Upon the Sea

Through May 9

$25-$29

Adrienne Theatre

2030 Sansom St.

215.568.8079

interacttheatre.org

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