For the past few months I’ve been at work on a new play called Dictators 4 Dummies at Touchstone Theatre. It’s by fellow Touchstone Ensemble Member Christopher Shorr, with fun music, even more fun dances, and witty, sharply biting political satire. And I play 6 of the dictators, 5 of them historical, 1 of them a made-up 5 year old son of Adolph Hitler.
It’s been an interesting journey.
There’s Stalin — mastermind murderer with a taste for jazzy, snappy song & dance numbers to explain how to be an autocrat
“Little Timmy” Hitler — imaginary 5 year old son of Adolf who is so very ready and willing to follow in daddy’s shoes sharing family favorite recipes for “scapegoat”
Josef Goebbels — the power of propoganda in full force
and … finally…
It was a powerful journey into caricature, truth and consequences, and how to come to grips with playing evil men. It’s also been my first foray into the world of full-blown musical since I was in college!
The play pulls no punches. It’s forthright to the point of bluntness. Sing loudly and carry a big stick, as it were. And it’s funny as all get-out. Also disturbing, as only political satire done well can be. You find yourself laughing and then feel slightly icky for it.
The first time I read the script I thought “oh, no. There’s no way I can say some of these lines.” And yet, here I am saying them to an audience. The slight revulsion I felt upon first speaking them is something I realize I am hoping the audience feels upon hearing them. As an actor, you don’t always get to play the hero. Sometimes you have to play the bad-man. And sometimes you have to play 6 of them.
And sometimes it is really, really, really important that you do. Especially when it’s really, really important that folks not forget how easy it is for a dictator to become one, if we don’t watch out. As the song says, “dictators rule the world when we play along.”
photo credits to Cristina Byrne