I can’t ever recall seeing a show where I was so anxious for it to end so I could check Twitter.
The Investigation is a crisp, seventy-minute re-enactment of the Mueller Report by Robert Schenkkan, a Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright. The show and setting are pure Trump tweet-bait, something dreamed up by Steve Bannon to rile up the MAGA-base.
Performed one night only in Riverside Church on the Upper West Side, livestreamed around the country, and drawing such stage and screen luminaries as John Lithgow as POTUS himself, Kevin Kline as Robert Mueller, and Alyssa Milano as Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow.
And the line of black cars in front of the church deposited exactly the kind of Manhattan social and media elite that Trump both craves the approval of and professes to loathe.
As they giggled in the darkened church over Lithgow’s fulminating, fuming and profane Trump, crying out “This is the end of my presidency, I’m fucked” from the presbytery, or Jason Alexander’s winking Jersey-guy portrayal of Chris Christie, it was easy to imagine Trump laying into the total losers and haters and their very overrated production 280 characters at a time from his favorite couch in the East Wing.
As a show, The Investigation doesn’t break much new ground. Eighteen actors are arrayed in rows on stage, with the scripts before them, and they stand when it is their turn to speak, with Annette Bening serving as the narrator.
They lay out, in vivid detail, Trump’s attempts to essentially flush the drugs down the toilet before the police came barging in through the door by lying, by telling associates to lie, by firing FBI director James Comey and threatening to fire Robert Mueller, by dangling pardons to former aides suddenly in legal jeopardy.
But it is not as if the original Mueller Report broke much new ground either, since so much of the Trump administration’s mendacity was out in the open all along, and much of the rest was faithfully reported by the press contemporaneously.
There are some exceptional performances: Alexander’s, Lithgow’s, Alfre Woodward as Hope Hicks, Wilson Cruz as a surprisingly demure staff secretary Rob Porter, Piper Perabo as—in a casting decision seemingly designed to draw Trump’s attention—Jared Kushner, and especially Joel Grey as a “beleaguered” and “VERY weak” Jeff Sessions, a cross between Truman Capote and Sally Field.
All bring to light the utter insanity of what the last two years have meant for the country.
Lithgow’s Trump lives in a spittle-flecked rage, obsessed with the investigation closing in around him as if the nation had no other pressing business before it, and prone to spouting such nonsense, and repeating it so often, that it becomes fair to wonder if his faculties are fully intact. The whole group is a gang of incompetents and nincompoops, whose full range of inability to rise to the moment of global leadership is given a full airing on stage.
Watching The Investigation, it is easy to imagine audiences gathering in a hundred or a thousand years from now, assuming there are still theaters and churches and cities and audiences willing to sit in the dark, to watch this tale of a still-powerful Lear casting about for loyal courtiers and paranoid of scheming underlings who won’t carry out his wishes and try to protect him from his baser instincts.
Surely, they will ask themselves, this couldn’t be true, could it? And if it had even a glimmer of historical verisimilitude, it must be the story of some declining provincial power, so wrapped up in its own nonsense that it was ignored by the rest of the world. Were they ever people, these audiences in the future will wonder, both so clownish and so convinced of their own power?
The Investigation is a production of Law Works, which endeavors to explain to the public concepts like the rule of law and a need for a nonpartisan and unbiased system of justice.
It is high-minded stuff, and no less an august figure than former PBS broadcaster Bill Moyers introduced the proceedings at Riverside Church by reminding the grandees present of their obligations at citizens and as an informed public. The show was kept under wraps until the morning of the production, when a PR company alerted outlets to its existence.
Of course, the point of the show wasn’t so much to inform as it was to snigger at the coarseness of it all and at the reality TV president and his C-Team of MAGA-living minions. And it was to inspire, too. At the end of the 10-act play, the book on Mueller was closed and the players made a passionate plea for President Trump’s impeachment.
It was a discordant note. There is a timeless quality to The Investigation, that is marred by making a plea for political action. If there is a case to be made for impeachment in the midst of a political campaign already well-begun, it ain’t the folks gathered on Riverside Drive who need to hear it, or tuning into the livestream for that matter.
Besides, much like the Mueller Report itself, The Investigation made a pretty strong case about the duplicity coming from the West Wing without reminding the audience to call their Congress member at the 202 number below and let your voice be heard.
But in the end, sadly, because it is a pretty great evening at the theater and a reminder of all the insanity we have been living through the past three years, The Investigation can only be considered a failure. I checked Twitter when the house lights came on and again this morning. The president has been cheering on the stock market and talking up his re-election campaign, but as of press time at least, there is nothing about the play.