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Inside the new play dramatizing the Trump administration's confirmation hearings

Nathan Osgood (left) portrays Senator Jeff Sessions during his Senate confirmation hearing in the new play,
Nathan Osgood (left) portrays Senator Jeff Sessions during his Senate confirmation hearing in the new play, "All the President's Men?"
Joan Marcus/The Public Theater

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The Trump administration has been all over late-night TV and news channels. Now a new play is bringing it to the stage.

Well, sort of. Thursday night, a star-studded cast performed a reading of the play "All the President’s Men?" It took place in New York as a one-off performance.

The play re-enacts the recent Senate confirmation hearings for Jeff Sessions, Rex Tillerson, Scott Pruitt and Tom Price. The cast included Alec Baldwin as Tillerson, Aasif Mandvi as Pruitt and Ellen Burstyn as Elizabeth Warren.

All The President's Men clip 1

Michael Paulson, theater reporter for the New York Times, joined The Frame to talk about the mood at the theater, the background of this unique play and the role of the audience at "All the President's Men?"

Interview Highlights

On the mood and environment at the performance:

It was pretty boisterous, actually. When we arrived, it felt like we were arriving at a political event, because this street outside the theater, which is just outside Times Square, was lined with anti-Trump protesters and a lot of cops. There was a big crowd milling about, and people were shouting about what they saw as the evils of the Trump administration.

They were largely preaching to the choir — the people going to this event, by and large, were skeptics about the current administration. We entered and, scrolling above the stage, were projected Tweets from Donald Trump, and that set the mood for a pretty fascinating evening.

On the show's director/editor, Nicholas Kent:

He's a British theater-maker who's associated with a theater called Tricycle in London, and they've done a lot of what we call "documentary theater" — using verbatim transcripts, as in this case, or interviews, and then dramatizing them by having actors say the words on stage.

What happened here last night was that a group of actors, many of them quite famous, said literally the words that were said by Trump's cabinet nominees and the senators who were interviewing them during their confirmation hearings.

On the role and participation of the audience at "All the President's Men?":

There was a lot of cheering and jeering, and it was hard to figure out what was spontaneous response and what was part of the theater piece. As you may remember, some of these confirmation hearings were interrupted by protesters, so this theater piece had actors playing protesters that would periodically burst into the theater and shout about Black Lives Matter, or they'd denounce Trump or the nominees.

Then those fake protesters would be dragged out by actors playing security guards, and that contributed to a sense of interactivity, so the audience was definitely vocal. When Ellen Burstyn came out as Elizabeth Warren and started talking, it was difficult to tell whether the entrance applause was for Ellen Burstyn or Elizabeth Warren. And when people heard speeches that in some way resonated with them, they responded, either negatively or positively.

Ellen Burstyn as Elizabeth Warren

On the uncanny nature of seeing these politicians on TV, then seeing them portrayed on the stage:

This is an interesting form of theater where you're confronted with this hyper-realism, this distilled essence of something that, in this case, many people are very familiar with. These hearings basically just took place and these characters are very much in the news — one of the hearings depicted in the piece was that of Jeff Sessions, who's now the attorney general and has been very much in the news this week.

So we're simultaneously engaged with these people on news programs, and then we're seeing them in a theater piece. But by boiling down the hearings and putting them into a different context, I think it forced you to really engage with the words they were saying and the emotions in the room. It did allow you to interact with it in a different way than simply watching cable television.

Raul Esparza as Marco Rubio

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