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Goethe Institut – Gallery
Sunday, July 21, 3:30 p.m. Friday, July 26, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 27, 7:45 p.m.
They say: “A piece of politics and protest set against the backdrop of our age of social media. Someone to Watch Over Me tells the story of a young woman who gave the people a voice and made a fucking difference.”
Ian’s Take: Some people look at Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and see an idealistic fantasy about one man winning out over a corrupt system bent on beating him down. Perhaps, to some extent, that’s what it is, though the film is darker and messier than how it’s often remembered. But even given its rose-colored reputation, set up next to the Federal Theatre Project’s Someone to Watch Over Me, it’s a grim and hard-hitting piece of unfettered realism.
Someoneone to Watch Over Me, written and directed by Kevin Finkelstein doesn’t take place in a familiar world. For one thing, it starts with the premise that Obama lost the 2012 election to some guy named Rufus Shinra, who’s up for reelection in the play’s present-day of late 2016. But even without that cue, there’s plenty more that would identify this as a work that takes place in a land no less fantastical than Middle Earth.
For one thing, the play’s lead character, Aerith Gainsborough (Stefanie Garcia), a Booz-Allen analyst turned unlikely political savior, actually manages to get a Utah congressman on the committee overseeing the District of Columbia to meet with D.C. residents before voting on issues pertaining to D.C. How does she accomplish the impossible? Basically by getting a bunch of his constituents to send him emails unrelated to D.C. and then asking.
Another sure sign we’re in another plane of existence is the fact that by play’s end, Aerith’s great triumph is that she manages a feat that’s blatantly unconstitutional, though I’ll refrain from spoiling exactly what that is.
But that’s getting ahead of things. Aerith is a disillusioned 20-something D.C. office drone feeling put out that her and her roommates’ youthful idealism has given way to an acceptance of a system designed to keep government at arm’s length from The People. So she starts a website airing her grievances that, much to her surprise, makes her into a national phenomenon, and eventually gives her the power to effect real change.
I’m sympathetic to the frustrations that inspire Aerith’s actions and the show itself, but had difficulty swallowing the presentation. While the cast admirably commits to the material, I just couldn’t, mostly because for a play about political action and change, Someone to Watch Over Me is incredibly short on detail or real vision of how that change looks. It sees a system in which those in power try to pacify the people with carefully edited soundbites and meaningless platitudes, and combats that with…more platitudes.
FTP’s stated intent to remain non-partisan winds up handcuffing the narrative, because it puts Aerith in the unlikely position of becoming a massive political celebrity, despite the fact that she has no clear goals apart from getting people involved. That might work for Chance the Gardener in a biting satire like Being There, but the fuzzy, feel-good, we-can-do-it vibe of Someone to Watch Over Me lacks any teeth whatsoever. Some may find its resolute refusal of any kind of cynicism to be refreshing; it just left me feeling even more cynical.
See it if: You’re mildly annoyed as heck and if it’s not any inconvenience to anyone, you’d prefer to take as little of this as possible anymore!
Skip it if: You prefer that theater railing against the lack of substance in the political sphere be a little more substantive.