Capsule Stage Reviews: …and L.A. Is Burning, Beatrice and Benedict, The Strangerer

Admit it, you're in the mood for another presidential debate, aren't you? Okay, don't groan, and don't stop reading, because Catastrophic Theatre's dramatic presentation of Mickle Maher's phantasmagoric 2004 head-to-head between Bush and Kerry, moderated by Jim Lehrer, is a must-see. Whatever you may think of these three empty suits, you won't think of them in the same way after this absurdist romp, which is wickedly accurate. The debate begins in documentary style with Lehrer (Seán Patrick Judge) doing a sound check, straightening his coat, putting in eye drops. The two participants enter — wild-eyed and wary Bush (Paul Locklear) and doe-eyed, stiff Kerry (Troy Schulze). During the first answer, Bush inexplicably stabs Lehrer in the back. Music from a Sergio Leone spaghetti western starts, as does the sound of wind, and the lights soar to white and then quickly cut to black. When they come back on, Lehrer, fixing his hair, explains that what we've seen is a theatrical moment staged by all three of them. What Lehrer doesn't get is that Bush is going to keep trying to kill him — with a gun, a pillow, cyanide — all senseless, without motive, somewhat like the main character in Camus's The Stranger (the book Bush was said to have read one summer, which set Maher on track to write this marvelous invention). We delve into Bush's psyche (yes, he's got one, and it's a beaut) as he attempts to make sense of the world and where exactly he fits into it. Fatuous Kerry drifts off to sleep — "He's a zombie," Bush jokes — and Lehrer is pompous and out-of-touch. Only Bush connects. Locklear gives the performance of his life, nailing W. with his weird pauses and malaprops ("middle-evil" is especially fine for "medieval"). He glides through the difficult non sequitur monologues, giving Bush a comprehensible, maddening humanity. Just as spot-on are Judge and Schulze. Matter of fact, the entire production is incredibly realized. "Perfectness," as W. might say.