Hollywood Fringe 2019
Bush Senior gets dirty to get in the White House.
If you’re tired of the state of national politics and the rancorous divide tearing our nation apart, it’s possible you could lay some the blame for that on Lee Atwater who brought negative campaigning to a new level on behalf of George H.W. Bush’s 1988 successful run for president of the United States. His story is told in “Son of a Bitch,” an excellent world-premiere ensemble piece that conjoins the creative teams behind last year’s noteworthy Fringe hits, “Keeping Up With the Prozorovs” and “A Beast/A Burden.”
After eight years of Ronald Reagan as president, the American people are getting weary of Republican rule in the Oval Office and his vice-president, George H.W. Bush (Dennis Gersten), hopes to reassure the nation that he’s their best pick for the next four years. What Bush doesn’t fully understand is that he has an image problem and might lose a primary challenge from Senator Bob Dole. As Bush and his campaign manager, Jim (David McElwee), prepare for a clean fight, he hires scrappy, young, Southern media strategist Lee Atwater (Ben Hethcoat) who encourages Bush to always go for the jugular during his run for the presidency. Working with Atwater is Bush’s son, George W. Bush (Luke Forbes), six months sober and looking for direction in life while living under the shadow of his no-nonsense father.
Across the board, “Son of a Bitch” features a strong ensemble of actors (which also includes finessed turns from Chloe Dworkin and Corsica Wilson), led by Hethcoat who embodies well the likable, but unsavory Atwater. The cast is bolstered by Lucy Gillespie’s hardball script and director Billy Ray Brewton’s fly-on-the-wall gravitas. The dialogue is sharp and builds slowly as the story progresses. Ultimately, I was hoping to see more reasons why Atwater actually is a son of a bitch—most of that rests on his responsibility for his infamous “Willie Horton” campaign ad—but this play nonetheless captures the spirit of achieving victory by shitting all over your enemies with full force.
I hope to see “Son of a Bitch” make its way to loftier stages soon. -ZACHARY BERNSTEIN