Tweets and Twitters: A Mormon Runs for President





8-20-12

Bruce Chadwick lectures on history and film at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He also teaches writing at New Jersey City University. He holds his PhD from Rutgers and was a former editor for the New York Daily News. Mr. Chadwick can be reached at bchadwick@njcu.edu.

#MormonInChief
New York Fringe Festival
Kraine Theater
85 E. Fourth Street
New York, N.Y.

You think Vice President Joe Biden misspoke last week with his infamous "chains" remark? Go see #MormonInChief, the new political play at the annual New York Fringe Festival. In Matthew Greene’s new work, former Governor Mack Benson, presidential candidate and a Mormon, gives what everybody thinks was a private talk to a religious group at the Mormon temple in Salt Lake City. Sitting in the audience was fellow Mormon Connor Jorgenson, who listens carefully, goes home, and sends out a tweet on the talk. In it, he said that Benson, clearly a thinly-veiled version of Mitt Romney, said he had a secret plan for getting rid of gays, illegals, and bleeding hearts. The tweet starts a political firestorm and the national press started hunting down the previously anonymous Jorgenson.

#MormonInChief is a very funny play that, despite its ups and downs and a lot of slow moments in the middle, pokes serious fun at the Mormon Church and all the bloggers, tweeters and so-called internet journalists. Playwright Greene really aimed his cannon at bloggers.

The plot of the new play is simple. A blogger, Lydia Strout, whose day job is a waitress at Starbucks, finds out where Jorgenson lives and corners him, trying to get him to admit what he did and tell her why he did so. She then becomes very invested in him and tries to use her relationship with him to catapult herself to journalistic fame. At the same time, another woman, Kate Walker, whose husband is vying with Jorgenson for a promotion at work, arrives and tries to get Jorgenson to drop out of the race with her hubby.

Jorgenson’s refusal to say he never sent the blog, and then his haste to say he was sorry, and his sheer wonder about why he is suddenly a media superstar, underlines the plot of the play and present day internet politics, in everybody emails everybody else (I used to get emails from Michelle Obama all the time during the 2008 election and then, after her husband won, she stopped sending them. Was it something I said?)

The play is not anti-Mormon and never raises Governor Benson’s religion as a reason why people might be reluctant to vote for him (polls, of course, show no such reluctance by American voters). The Governor’s Mormonism is really a foil to set up a play about a private talk that goes public and has huge consequences.

Playwright Greene has some real zingers for the whole tweet universe (“privacy is obsolete”) and twitter and dot com journalism in general. His depiction of bloggers and tweeters is so real that you might think Governor Benson really is running for president. Greene recreates the way the national media jumps on a story to build a following. Factchecking becomes a lost art in such an environment. Blogger Strout, always trying to impress Jorgenson, tells him that he has more Twitter followers than the populations of most countries.

Director Austin Regan receives fine performances from Jesse Liebman as a perplexed and puzzled Jorgenson, Nicole Rodenburg as the tenacious Lydia Strout and Karis Danish as the muddling Kate Walker. Michael Holt does wonders with his colorful, multi-color projection show that fires tweets, Internet stories, and newspaper headlines at the audience.

The play has some problems. The middle of it moves very, very slowly and there is far too much time spent on Jorgenson’s relationships with the two women. Why is the promotion at work gimmick needed at all? Where was Governor Benson in all of this? A TV monitor with an actor playing Benson defending himself might have been nice, and a real journalist tossed in might have helped.

The playwright should also have added a bit of Mormon history to his work. The Mormons’ story is intriguing, from the group’s journey to Utah to its marital controversies to Mitt Romney. A simple thirty seconds of history might have improved the work a bit.

Little of this matters. #MormonInChief is a good political spoof and a very perceptive commentary on both presidential campaigns and twitters and tweeters.

You have to wonder, thought, if Governor Benson released his last ten years of tax returns and drives around with his dog on the top of his car.


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