Bob Di Cerbo does not like George W. Bush. In fact, he thinks that the administration of the 43rd president of the United States is an unmitigated disaster. Moreover, he feels that the Bush team won the 2000 election with a one-two punch of vicious character assassination and a shameless manipulation of the truth.
He also believes that the country, now led by an immoral and mentally challenged man, is turning into an imperialist, corporate state; that its power-mongering has isolated it from the world; and that its downward slide is being aided by a media culture that confuses entertainment with news reporting. Add to this depressing assessment an unenlightened and unthinking electorate and Di Cerbo can only predict a dire future for the ordinary American under the Bush II regime.
Frankly, it would be hard to dispute Di Cerbo's allegations or the positions he takes vis-à-vis the present state of national affairs in his lengthy and prolix diatribe Us and Them, now playing at the Studio Theatre in downtown Orlando. And it would be all well and good if he were writing an op-ed piece in some magazine or news journal or taking the stage at some political rally.
But, unfortunately, the playwright/director has heaped all of his vitriol into a depressingly unimaginative theater piece whose results are as disastrous in a much smaller way, of course as the presidency he is criticizing. The main problem is that Us and Them is not a play. It is a polemic. And, as such, it possesses no dramatic structure worth pursuing and no characters worth caring about.
Di Cerbo has misused the theatrical stage to advance a point of view, letting his political vision replace his artistic one. Although the 12 actors in his cast all have names and faces James Newport, Arlen Bensen and Lauren O'Quinn are among the better-known participants they generally speak with the same voice. And that voice is not one that can be identified as emblematic of anything vaguely approaching human society as we know it.
As examples, two young people drinking at a club spend most of their time discussing all the international treaties broken by President Bush; a daughter (Shannon Beeby) walks into a room and demands to know from her father (Bensen) why we give so much money to Israel; and even St. Peter (Chris Niess) starts spouting statistics in a make-believe conversation with the "compassionate conservative" (Philip Corents) who has managed to wangle his way into the White House. (How he got to the gates of heaven is anybody's guess!)
What's confusing is not the message of the piece it's driven home with numbing repetition but trying to figure out just who Di Cerbo is hoping to reach with his one-sided jeremiad. If he is talking to the Bush-haters, then his broadside is superfluous. Every lie, broken promise, campaign smear and bad policy decision he refers to can be gleaned from any one of a dozen Bush-bashing books now on the stands. If he is trying to convert the faithful, then he knows nothing about the politics of denial, so well established in the ranks of the Republican minions. And if he believes that a laundry list of Bush's crimes and misdemeanors will sway those on the fence, then he simply "misunderestimates" how the electorate operates.
The 10 percent in the muddled middle, who decide our national elections, are not capable of being convinced by the facts or the truth. They are swayed solely by emotional arguments. That's why negative campaigning exists: to push those on the fence over into one camp by tearing down the opponent's character. Generally, it works.
While plowing through endless examples of Dubya's malfeasance, Di Cerbo continually exhorts his audience to be more active politically, watch more C-SPAN and stop listening to Rush Limbaugh. "Examine and think!" his play declaims. "Then decide!" I did. I left during intermission.