Transitions: A Strange Theatrical Satire On Trump And Putin
In the program notes for Transitions, his new play currently on view at the Gateway Theater, Theater Rhinoceros Executive Director John Fisher states that his late Republican dad would never have supported Donald Trump.
Fisher wears many hats in Transitions. In addition to writing and directing, he also stars as both Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin. The play begins with a peek inside the relationship Donald and Melania (Katie Rubin). They obviously aren’t in love and use their 11 year old unseen son Barron as a pawn in their manipulations with each other.
Meanwhile, a closeted aide named Ezekial (Morgan Lange) arranges for a fiery and self-assured drag queen named Ruby (Charles Peoples III) to travel to Russia as part of a cultural exchange–where Putin and his ex-wife Lyudmila (also Fisher and Rubin) play their own games of cat and mouse. Just as Ruby arrives Barron is kidnapped, which brings the two countries to the brink of nuclear war.
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The Russians, it turns out, had nothing to do with the kidnapping–an aide to Melania is one of the guilty parties.
Presented as a farce/suspense thriller hybrid, Transitions is one of the most bizarre theatrical offerings in recent years. Though the acting is quite good, the show doesn’t always make sense. When the kidnapper is discovered, some audience members might wonder why she’s not arrested. Instead she tells Melania that she’s sorry. And while it’s amusing to see Ruby the drag queen handcuffing herself to Putin, its another case of: how does she get away with this? Why no repercussions?
There is a fair amount of genuine suspense when it looks like the USA and Russia might actually start sending nuclear weapons in each other’s directions–Fisher has said that these scenes were inspired by an incident in Hawaii, where he and his husband were vacationing, during which a false nuclear attack warning was issued. Fisher writes about the terror he felt for the forty minutes that warning was in effect–in Transitions several of the cast members act out what Fisher was feeling on that horrible day.
Fisher and Rubin make numerous, incredibley quick costume changes whenever they need to switch roles. As Trump, Fisher wears an orange wig from hell which is quite hilarious. The actor effectively captures the body language of both leaders. As Putin, he merely takes the wig off and changes clothes. Rubin, who looks nothing like Melania, nonetheless does quite a good job with her matching Slavic accents.
The show’s highest acting honors go to Charles Peoples III’s Ruby, who gives the most intense and most serious performance of the evening. Ruby is tough as nails and has no problem speaking her truth, such as when she rejects Ezekial’s advances because of Ezekial’s refusal to come out. Ruby has clearly been around the block a few times. She has no time for BS. She emerges as the evening’s most admiral character.
Transitions can be seen, courtesy of Theatre Rhinoceros, at the Gateway Theater, 215 Jackson Street, through March 17.