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Trial of an American President

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors

Trial of an American President

(Tony Carlin and Michael Rogers.  Photo Ken Nahoum)

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors

A month before a presidential election seems like an appropriate time for The Trial of An American President by Dick Tarlow with Bill Smith at Theater Row's Lion Theatre.   On trial is former United States President George W. Bush at the International Criminal Court in the Hague, considering his guilt or innocence of extended crimes against the world.   After 15 years of political and social discussion, will the former president be found guilty of war crimes and of escalating the rage of terrorism after invading Iraq in 2003? 

 The answer lies with a jury of nine audience members.  Depending on their decision, each night will be different, or maybe not.

Directed by Stephen Eich, the spare production begins with an overview of the war-ravaged countries in the Middle East, the bloody battle of Fallujah, devastation of Syria, homeless refugees, destruction of historic sites and torture of citizens.  Narrator (Mahira Kakkar) points out how " became obvious to even the most avid Bush loyalists that the invasion of Iraq had opened the door to the tragic state of the Middle East today. The world simply could no longer ignore the effect that the invasion in 2003 had on the world and how it opened the door for the rise of ISIS..."  Tarlow's conceit in the play ponders the "What If?... What If the pressure grew so strong from so many countries, so many leaders, that the United Nations could not turn a deaf ear any longer.  What If the United National Security Council asked the International Criminal Court to bring President Bush to trial?"

And what if President Bush agreed to stand up for his actions.  The play demands we accept that George W. Bush, played by Tony Carlin (Sylvia), actually agrees to leave his quiet post-presidential retired Texaslife  to appear before the International Criminal Court.  Accompanied by the videos and voice-over tracks of Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Tony Blair, Donald Rumsfeld, Laura Bush, supporters and protestors, appearing on stage are only the Narrator, the Prosecutor and George W. Bush. 

The prosecutor for the Hague Court is played with imposing authority by Michael Rogers, looming over Bush in his black robe. The evidence is chilling and as the summation points out with resonance, “This man lied to his own country and to the entire world so he could invade Iraq, killing and maiming hundreds of thousands of innocent people... There were no weapons of mass destruction; that is a fact.  There were crimes of occupation. That is a fact. There was torture beyond anything previously known to the world by a civilized nation. That too is a fact….”

As former President Bush, Tony Carlin, dressed in a rumpled grey, compellingly adapted the twangy tone of his character.  With alternating moments of fear and defiance, he acted as his own counsel, often siting his Christian faith.  He admitted making mistakes but not any wrong-doing in his actions.  “All I wanted to do was protect my people… and free a country from a despot, murderer, to have Iraqi people enjoy the same freedom we have here in America. And yes, I should have reacted faster and with more force after Saddam was gone. We didn’t plan that well enough... .  I am hoping that you, the Jury, will recognize that my decisions and my country’s actions were not criminal. You may not agree with all of it, or even most of it, but that does not make me a criminal." 

Nor does this lineup of facts, even accompanied by evocative images and testimonies, make for a suspenseful drama.  

Not much new is added to a subject that has been discussed and argued since 9/11 but there is a relevancy to watching The Trial of An American President just weeks before another presidential election.  Most minds have now been made up about the election and I predict most nights will bring in the same verdict about The Trial of An American President.


The Trial Of An American President

Lion Theater,  410 W. 42nd Street 

Previewed: Sept. 17, 2016. Opening: Sept. 29, 2016  Closing: Oct. 15, 2016

Written By Dick Tarlow with Bill Smith
Directed by Stephen Eich

Running Time: 80 minutes
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors


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