Hollywood Fringe 2019
What would it take for political campaigns to be civil again? In Jim Hanna’s hilarious satire, even the threat of death from a supernatural force can’t convince us all to just get along.
In today’s world of partisan bickering, it’s a tall order to get audiences to sit for political theatre. After all, we get it daily on the news. But Jim Hanna’s show, The Mayor’s Debate of Tranquility, Nebraska provides exactly the kind of medicine we need. In this delightful satire, no one is off limits as we follow a trio of archetypal mayoral candidates—each loathsome in their own special way—as they tiptoe through a disastrous debate, with little help from a hapless moderator.
The show could easily just be a sendup of any other debate, which in today’s absurd and polarized political landscape would feel a little too close to reality to even qualify as parody. But Hanna elevates the show by adding a surreal, supernatural threat that lingers beneath the usual sniping and veiled insults—for whatever obscure reason, residents of Tranquility, NE must remain civil at all costs, lest they risk certain doom from an unseen force that will punish them for violating these rules. It’s an ingenious vehicle for comedy and commentary: Hanna’s put three people in a room together who utterly despise each other, and we get to enjoy as they skirt around their own vitriolic distaste for one another like rats in a maze. Each embodies certain political extremes—Lucie Beeby as Lindsey Suarez is the staunch, small-business owning anarchic libertarian veteran, Katie Streeter as Dr. Maya Berenger, actress/lesbian/progressive/intellectual/weekday vegan Millenial, and of course Jim Hanna as acting mayor Scott Jensen, the average Joe Republican who can barely suppress his eye rolling at the other two’s political bombast. (For additional entertainment, it’s well worth taking a look at the show’s page for linked clips of each character doing promotional shots that perfectly encapsulate their personalities, while teasing the main tension of the show.) Scott is a career politician nobody’s interested in, while Maya and Lindsey occupy extreme positions certain to alienate whomever hasn’t voted for them. It’s a disturbingly apt parallel to American politics on a national scale, where moderate views no longer gain support and reasonableness is seen as political weakness. Meanwhile, Emily Dorsett wonderfully rounds out the show as Amber Raines, a bumbling part-time news anchor consumed with envy for the meteorologist position for which she only gets to substitute, who must keep the debate moving forward while avoiding anything controversial—a nearly impossible task.
The actors play wonderfully off each other, giving Hanna’s classic whip sharp text the fast pacing and clean delivery it deserves. It’s a perfect 55-minutes of comedic absurdity that simply flies by without a single lull. As a whole, the piece shines with wry wit and sardonic humor, with each actor aptly nailing their roles. While Dr. Maya can’t help but jump into TED Talk mode and Lindsey can’t help but rehash Ayn Rand aphorisms, Scott defaults to classic immigrant bashing, flag waving, and service-thanking (whenever Lindsey mentions her time in the military, Scott thanks her for her service with the irrepressible immediacy of a sneeze he seems to almost resent. It’s comic gold.) Specifically, Dorsett’s Amber is a particularly lovable mess pitied by the whole lot of them, while Hanna is a terrific foil to his co-stars, the straight man not because he isn’t also absurd, but because absurdity has now become normal. It is Scott who shows a surprising kernel of humanity and lends some depth to this otherwise breezy and parodic romp of a show. As despicable as his political posturing has been, he still possesses some humanity, and we can’t help but appreciate that good old American gumption he represents. That might be the most truthful thing to come out of this piece: we’re all absurd people, and as much as we might want to scream and disagree with each other, we sure as hell won’t stand for someone else telling us what to do. UHMERICUH! (*waves flag*)
The Mayor’s Debate of Tranquility, Nebraska is a brilliant commentary on the divisive state of politics that both mocks the modern lack of civility while at the same time celebrating the gift that is free speech. A perfect little bite of political theatre, it doesn’t offer any way to fix things, but it certainly does allow us to laugh at the things we can’t yet change.