Dictating Dictatorship

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

Gaddafi — a madman with a heart of pure tar who loved to play puppetmaster to his people

“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”

Slobodan Milosovic — a stand-up comic with a sick routine and a soft-shoe shuffle

Josef Goebbels — the power of propoganda in full force

and … finally…

Mussolini — Italian dictator with a taste for disco

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

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