by Margret Echeverria
As the child of two Southerners who was born and raised in the Midwest, I feel confident in telling you that Midwesterners and Southerners are both great story tellers. An Iowan, however, will start a tale with bold titillating truths. A Texan will weave the truth with a little fantasy first, teasing the listener along, picking at perceptions, until the truth peeks out at the end of the tale like a the spirit of a dead Spanish American war hero shouting, Boo! Ian Allen‘s new play, Laura Bush Killed a Guy, gives us LIsa Hodsoll as the First Lady who is one of these Texan story weavers peeling away charming pleasantries over and under her truth eventually getting us to the tender heart of the matter while thoroughly entertaining us along the way — and feeding us Cowboy Cookies, which she convinced us to bake and bring ourselves to share.
I walked into the performance space at The Flea Theater in Tribeca and was intrigued by the tray of cookies at the entrance which varied in color and size because different audience members had made them from the Laura Bush Family Circle prize winning recipe in their own kitchens. I had one and it was indeed delicious. Savoring the taste of nuts and chocolate with oats, it is as if we are in Laura Bush’s living room and she has invited us in to chat. In a slim fitting costume designed by Rhonda Key, Laura Bush (Lisa Hodsoll) is dressed in a modest white skirt suit with, of course, pearls. She smiles like she has been expecting us all day and we can all relax and be ourselves here.
Did Laura Bush kill a guy? Well, yes. Yes, she did. Who was he? Why did she kill him? Why do we still like her so much when we have so many reasons to be so suspicious of her moral disposition? The company she keeps, for one thing, is highly suspect. She clearly grew up privileged. She does not seem to want to challenge the public intellectually. When it comes to Laura Bush, historically we have been fed a picture of a rather vapid woman for whom many of us may have felt sorry. Allen’s writing gratifies so many of these questions while Hodsoll completely disarms us. Director John Vreeke allows Hodsoll’s character to sweetly let us know that she is aware of exactly what our preconceptions may be and she gets it, but we are in for some tough revelations. The shell begins to open crack by crack until all the beautiful feathers come tumbling out.
Man, I had some serious judgements about the Bushes. I used to rage at my family members who voted for them. I didn’t want those wars. I believed 9-11 could have been prevented had the Bush administration not been so lazy or even totally down with it. And maybe all of that is still justified reasoning, but what got lost for me back then – was it really nearly twenty years ago when it all started? – was that these people are people with blood in their veins and parents and childhoods and some circumstances that really were beyond their control. Circumstances that shaped hearts and broke hearts and burdened spirits with guilt and shame. And Hodsoll animates all of this for us from Laura Bush’s life with the joy sprinkled in, too, and acknowledgement of all that was so crazy and even a couple of family skeletons and White House secrets. The bit about Ladybird’s visit to the White House had me in a slippery puddle of hysteria and self-consciousness at my audacity to laugh.
This is satire for sure. A healthy dose of it. But there is no bitterness in it. We see very clearly that it is the human condition to make the best decisions we can given the information we have at the time. We can choose to wallow in shame as we look back on those decisions and admonish ourselves for the results … or we can forgive a little and maybe even find entertainment in the memory of our lives and what we thought at the time . . . . or even congratulate ourselves for surviving those wounds and living to drink another martini, smoke another cigarette and escape into another good novel. Laura Bush just adores a good book.
And speaking of good books, this show is so well written. Hodsoll appears often to be utterly spontaneous and she does deftly improvise a few times in the show because she can — her tool box matches the brilliance of her author’s, especially when responding genuinely to audience reactions in this intimate space — but upon examining the script, I saw that many of the real juicy vulnerable moments I felt penetrate my skin were the result of just damn good writing.
You have to see this show. Really. You have to. It is so well put together and you will have a really good time. Bring me back one of those cookies, won’t you?
LAURA BUSH KILLED A GUY by Ian Allen; directed by John Vreeke
WITH Lisa Hosoll (Laura Bush)
presented by Roger Sanders & Dana Scott Golloway and The Klunch; costumes by Rhonda Key; lighting by David C. Ghatan; sound by Lucas Zarwell; set by Kim Deane; stage management by Elizabeth Ramsay.
through July 8, Monday & Wednesday – Saturday at 7pm and Sunday at 3pm. Running time is appx 80 mins, no intermission. Tickets start at $15 with the lowest priced tickets available on a first-come, first-served basis. The Flea Theater is located at 20 Thomas Street between Church and Broadway, three blocks north of Chambers, close to the A/C/E, N/Q/R/W, 4/5/6, J/M/Z and 1/2/3 subway lines. Purchase tickets by calling 212-226-0051 or online at www.theflea.org.