Presidents have been rich fodder for modern political satire since at least the era of Will Rogers. They are the nails that stick up and so get hammered. Vaughn Meader had a nice little career going lampooning JFK, until tragedy made him untouchable. Saturday Night Live has had every president in its sights since 1975. So, of course, Donald J. Trump has it coming. Even the unflappable Barak Obama took his lumps. Ray Richmond’s new play Transition is set in the Oval Office on Thursday, November 10, 2016, where a meeting between Trump and Obama that was projected to last for ten to fifteen minutes went on for ninety minutes. No one who knows what went on in that gabfest has come forth to report, so Mr. Richmond has made a delicious comedy that will make some people miffed and have some guffawing at the antics of two splendid performers who give some dead-on takes of presidential behavior.
Joshua Wolf Coleman renders an Obama that rings true with a vocal delivery that is accurate in cadence and inflection. He projects a calm dignity and sharp wit that can be kindled to anger by his larger-than-life interlocutor. Donald Trump has made himself a target as a man who repeats the same of words and phrases over and over again like a mantra. His mannerisms and gestures have been seen so often that they can haunt dreams. Trump is such a ripe fruit that wits like Colbert, Alec Baldwin and others cannot resist spoofing. That makes him angry enough to tweet in the dead of night, which merely adds oxygen to the flame of relentless satire.
Harry S. Murphy gives us the complete spectacle of Donald J. Trump. Tall and massive, with the signature hairdo and the long red tie hanging down to his crotch, he weaves in all the mannerism that the real Trump deploys to punctuate the delivery of his utterances—the shrug, the pointy fingers, the chin-up Mussolini pose. The playwright helps out with the entire catalog of Trumpish clichés, including the limited vocabulary. As written by Mr. Richmond, this Trump has adult onset ADHD with phone in hand sending out tweets while in the Oval Office meeting with a sitting president. Obama is beyond patient with him until he isn’t.
Trevor Alkazian is ideally reserved and unflappable as Obama’s young presidential aide.
The show is well paced and briskly directed Lee Costello, who keeps the action just this side of lurching into shameless parody. Set designer Pete Hickok has crafted a fine representation of the Oval Office, which is unobtrusively lit Donny Jackson. The costumes by Kate Bergh are appropriately historic.
Transition will delight some and dismay others, depending on how one views the state of the nation. Trump must take his lumps, hopefully like a man and not like a spoiled child. All the presidents back to the beginning of the nation have endured calumny, and so must he.
Transition runs through Sunday, April 16 at The Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd. in Los Angeles. Regular show times: Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00, Sundays at 3:00. It is dark on March 31, April 1, April 2.