A transcript of the 2004 presidential debate between President George Bush and Senator John Kerry, held in Coral Gables, Florida, contains a tetchy discussion of foreign policy. Kerry answered queries like “What colossal misjudgments, in your opinion, has President Bush made?” Bush fielded “Do you believe the election of Senator Kerry [would increase the likelihood of] another 9/11-type terrorist attack?” But the record doesn’t report President Bush’s attempts to assassinate moderator Jim Lehrer via gun, flame, or ceremonial Indonesian dagger.
Mickle Maher’s The Strangerer does. This absurdist piece by Chicago’s Theater Oobleck takes place at the Coral Gables debate, but here, the candidates discuss the manner in which they should murder Lehrer. Bush has decided he inhabits a godless universe where Lehrer’s death won’t matter. He explains: “It’s no importance that we do away with you. The only thing of any possibility that could appear to be important is the style and method.” Maher takes his inspiration from a 2006 press release detailing Bush’s plans to read Camus’s The Stranger. Like the hero of that novel, Bush has apparently tasked himself with killing an Arab—Osama bin Laden—so perhaps Maher’s association of Bush and Camus isn’t so absurd.
The actors, including Maher as a zombified Kerry, give amusing impersonations. Watching Bush (Guy Massey) attempt to asphyxiate Lehrer (Colm O’Reilly) with a fluffy pillow provides no little delight. But the play fails to expand past its initial premise. Rather, like many an existentialist novel before it, it merely repeats the same ideas. As the show progresses, comedy cedes to tedium.
In The Strangerer, Bush’s final lines, spoken to Kerry, are: “You stay here. Take a nap. Uh, yeah. . . . ” But in the actual debate, Bush concluded: “I appreciate your listening tonight. I ask for your vote. And may God continue to bless our great land.” Bush asked, and he received. Now there’s material for a show. A tragedy.