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Jon Robin Baitz's play, "Vicuña," has a new post-election resonance




Harry Groener plays a Donald Trump-like character in Jon Robin Baitz's “Vicuña” at the Kirk Douglas Theater.
Harry Groener plays a Donald Trump-like character in Jon Robin Baitz's “Vicuña” at the Kirk Douglas Theater.
Craig Schwartz

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The theater has traditionally been a platform for exploring the American condition, and this pivotal election year has been no different.

Currently at the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City is “Vicuña,” a new work by acclaimed playwright Jon Robin Baitz. The protagonist is a Republican presidential candidate, a thinly-veiled version of Donald Trump. The play is set as the candidate — named Kurt Seaman — prepares for a debate and spars with the immigrant tailors who are making a suit for him.

Harry Groener, center, is a Donald Trump-like candidate who wants immigrant tailors played by Brian George, left, and Ramiz Monsef to make him a custom suit in Jon Robin Baitz's “Vicuña” at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.
Harry Groener, center, is a Donald Trump-like candidate who wants immigrant tailors played by Brian George, left, and Ramiz Monsef to make him a custom suit in Jon Robin Baitz's “Vicuña” at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.
Craig Schwartz

We spoke with the playwright just after “Vicuña” had its world premiere Oct. 30. But that was before the presidential election. After the first post-election performance of the play, we wanted to find out if there was now a different resonance for the cast and the audience. Harry Groener, the actor who plays the Trump surrogate, came to The Frame studio and explained why the performance was more difficult after the election:

We had to be careful almost not to listen to what we were saying, because some of what is in this play now has completely different meaning. It could conceivably take you out of the scene at the moment, and all of a sudden you become an audience [member] and you hear what you just said.

But unlike the divisive nature of the presidential race itself, the performance agreed with both Clinton and Trump supporters. Groener says:

Robert Egan who directed the play, met some Trump supporters and said, Oh, you must have hated the play. And they said, Quite frankly, we enjoyed the play very much because we felt that it was fair and that the argument for the other side was expressed.

Harry Groener is a Donald Trump-like candidate and Linda Gehringer is a GOP operative in the world premiere of Jon Robin Baitz's “Vicuña” at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.
Harry Groener is a Donald Trump-like candidate and Linda Gehringer is a GOP operative in the world premiere of Jon Robin Baitz's “Vicuña” at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.
Craig Schwartz

Onelection night, Baitz’s “Vicuña” also had a reading at the Ivy Club in London. It was directed by Lindsay Posner, spoke with The Frame following our election. He described what the mood was like as the reading was taking place and ballots were being counted in the United States:

It was a slightly surreal situation. Everybody was totally absorbed, and by the end of the play, as well as being entertained, there was a feeling of fear in the room ... Sure enough, a few hours later, as the results started coming in on the big screen, everybody sank in despair. 

But “Vicuña” wasn't presented as a means of answering any questions, he says.

I think [Baitz's] analysis of Trump, and of the political situation that's contained within the play, certainly widened my understanding of it. In that sense, although you're not given answers, your eyes have been opened to certain aspects of reality.

Groener, the play's star in Los Angeles, also sensed that the play contained a wider message:

We have to continue to be aware and try to find some way to work through this as a country. And not just as one side of a country, but as a complete country, as a whole country, as a united country. My god — the Civil War was fought for unity. Lincoln basically went into the war to maintain the Union. It was less about slavery and more about maintaining the Union.

 



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