Sheri Flanders is an actor, writer and comedian in Chicago. She is head writer for Choice The Musical, half of the comedy duo Flanders and part of the Infinite Sundaes musical house ensemble. Sheri is a contributor for Chicagoland Musical Theater, a faculty member of the Second City music program and co-owner of Flanders Consulting.
Pictured: Rob Riley and William Dick. Photo by Liz Lauren.
By Sheri Flanders
Recently Oprah gave a powerful speech at the Golden Globes that sparked intense speculation about a Presidential run, yet shamefully little discussion regarding the content of her words. The backlash was swift and definitive. Celebrities should not be President.
Of course, the inconvenient truth is that our current President is a celebrity and a significant number of celebrities have enjoyed successful careers in politics, from Jesse Ventura to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Trump aside, being an actor does not automatically render one unintelligent; on the contrary, many entertainers are quite intelligent. Aside from his recent downfall, most would agree that Al Franken has enjoyed a successful career. And the trailblazer for all celebrity politicians is Ronald Reagan.
The historical comic-fiction of BLIND DATE makes no attempt to reckon with Reagan’s legacy outside of his role in the Cold War. This is not a harsh takedown of his worst policies, nor is it a shameless spit-polishing of his legacy. BLIND DATE cuts Reagan down to size – rendering him simply a man. Playwright Rogielo Martinez has masterfully created a compelling script that deftly avoids falling prey to the dry and boring details of the Star Wars program and Mutual Assured Destruction, and simply examines the universal difficulties and nuances of sitting down to have a conversation.
Martinez paints a highly plausible portrait of Reagan (Rob Riley) and Gorbachev (William Dick) as recalcitrant toddlers, forced to play nice through the machinations of their savvier advisors George Shultz (Jim Ortlieb) and Eduard Shevardnadze (Steve Pickering). The spartan yet imposing grey stage design creates a sobering backdrop as we discover that our top decisionmaker is a man with a panache for movie quotes.
Riley executes an excellently subtle yet effective impersonation of Reagan, staying true to his iconic voice and mannerisms without spilling over into caricature, and Dick’s Gorbachev is wryly ebullient, a fine matchup. Ortlieb and Pickering are also perfectly paired and a joy to watch as their relationship evolves from verbal sparring to mutual respect and camaraderie.
Not to be outdone, Deanna Dunagan and Mary Beth Fisher provide hilarious comic relief as Nancy Reagan and Raisa Gorbachev. Dunagan’s Nancy Reagan is terrifyingly accurate, bolstered by spot-on costume design by Amy Clark, and Fisher is a delight to watch as Mrs. Gorbachev, two strong women who steal the spotlight and lead even when society demands that they stay in the wings. When Ms. Gorbachev asks her designer Slava “How does it feel to be two people?” it is layered with meaning inside the play and beyond.
Thomas J. Cox plays a fun role as the inconspicuous fly-on-the-wall Presidential Biographer, struggling along with the audience to access the interior life of such an imposing figure. The play is a comparison of contrasts: American vs Russian, Capitalism vs Communism, and surprisingly unique discussion around Atheism and Religion, as it is one of the least hysterical inclusions of Atheism in media that I have seen. Strong religious faith takes on a different tenor when the fate of the world hangs in the balance.
BLIND DATE reveals our misunderstanding as to what the Presidency actually entails. We optimistically hope that our leaders are crunching facts and figures, soberly and clinically weighing options. Yet in reality, political theater is just that – jockeying to appear a “strong” leader; manipulating the public to appear to be “authentic” – or at least certain brands of carefully curated easygoing, charming, witty or brash and rowdy. Awkwardly authentic will get you nowhere – just ask Hillary Clinton. Americans are hopelessly naïve – it is indeed acting that gets the job done.
We would like to believe that the internet has changed things; but politics have always been rife with base, petty lies. We desperately need to believe that our leaders are something other than normal men and women, something better than ourselves. Yet a scene where Nancy Reagan invokes her astrologer, illustrating the mighty power she held over the fate of the world, is both hilarious and sobering. In our struggle to elect the perfect politician, we tend to underestimate the awesome power of regular people.
BLIND DATE is a highly recommended humorous look at history that will intrigue no matter where you fall on the political spectrum.
BLIND DATE runs through February 25th. For more information visit goodmantheatre.org.