The Strangerer (2018)


Ticket Price

We Suggest $35
More If You Have it
Less if you don't


3400 Main St
Houston, TX 77002


May 17, 2018 -
Jun 3, 2018
Thu 7:30p
Fri & Sat 8p
Sun 2:30p

Mon, May 21 & Sun, Jun 3!

Cast & Personnel

Assistant Director
Costume Design
Lighting Design
Sound Design
Prop Design
Stage Manager

Original 2008 Production

The Play

George W. Bush wants to kill PBS newsman Jim Lehrer. He wants to kill him right on the stage of his first presidential debate with John Kerry. In a more-than-nifty turn, the reason for the attempted murder, revealed to us and Bush himself near the play’s end, makes Bush the unlikely, existential hero of the play. A surreal reimagining of real events, THE STRANGERER delves deeply into the minds of the three characters, especially Bush, in surprising, often hilarious, and sometimes unsettling ways. Partly inspired by the works of author-philosopher Albert Camus—particularly Camus’ novel THE STRANGER which the real Bush once placed on his summer reading list—Catastrophic Theatre favorite Mickle Maher (SONG ABOUT HIMSELF, THE HUNCHBACK VARIATIONS, THERE IS A HAPPINESS THAT MORNING IS, THE PINE, SPIRITS TO ENFORCE) explores the fascinating ground between murder and philosophy.
This production reunites the cast of The Catastrophic Theatre’s 2008 production of THE STRANGERER: Paul Locklear as Bush, Troy Schulze as Kerry, and Seán Patrick Judge as Lehrer. Catastrophic Theatre artistic director Jason Nodler returns to direct.
Of the original production The Houston Chronicle wrote, “The Strangerer may be Theatre of the Absurd — yet it’s also the funniest and most acutely meaningful example of the genre I’ve encountered in ages.” The Houston Press called the play “a must-see” and raved: “Locklear gives the performance of his life, nailing W. with his weird pauses and malaprops…. 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.”
THE STRANGERER is presented in repertory with two other Mickle Maher plays, both directed by Nodler: the original musical SMALL BALL and JIM LEHRER AND THE THEATER AND ITS DOUBLE AND JIM LEHRER’S DOUBLE, which is a sort of sequel to THE STRANGERER.

The Playwright

Mickle Maher’s plays have been produced Off-Broadway and throughout the world. Catastrophic has produced a whopping 12 productions of his plays, some of them more than once: last season’s It Is Magic, Song About Himself, The Hunchback Variations, There Is a Happiness That Morning Is, The Strangerer, Jim Lehrer and The Theater and Its Double and Jim Lehrer’s Double, and the world premieres of The Pine and Small Ball, commissioned and co-produced by Catastrophic and former Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey. Maher is a co-founder of Chicago’s Theater Oobleck and has taught playwriting and related subjects at The University of Chicago, Columbia College, and Northwestern University. His plays are published by Hope and Nonthings.
“Maher [is] one of the most original voices in American theater today.” – Houston Chronicle

In the Media

BWW Review: STRANGERER Things on Stage at The Catastrophic Theatre
May 30, 2018 | Broadway World | P’nina Topham
2006. Crawford, TX. President George W. Bush added Albert Camus‘ THE STRANGER to his summer reading list. The media had a field day, or its equivalent at the time (social media was still in its infancy), questioning his motives, trying to understand why the President would select – and publicize – his reading of a French existentialist’s short literary work, most frequently consumed by college freshman.

Was he sending a goodwill message to the French, whom he’d generally dismissed throughout his presidency at that time? Could he identify with the volume’s themes of angst and anxiety, along with the story of a regular man led to senseless murder? Maybe he just wanted a quick read on the ranch? We’ll never know for sure, but to our great benefit, playwright Mickle Maher was inspired by Bush’s choice, leading to THE STRANGERER.

George W. Bush has an axe to grind. Or rather, a gun to shoot, a pillow with which to smother, and a vial of cyanide, among other murderous weapons. Our 43rd president wants nothing more than to kill PBS anchor Jim Lehrer. He wants to do it on stage, live before a national audience of millions, during a presidential debate against his opponent, Senator John Kerry, who, in an unexpected act of bipartisanship, agrees that Lehrer should die.

It would behoove me to stop there, but please be assured that THE STRANGERER is more than what it seems. Superficially, it’s a farcical one-act about a president who wants to kill a newsman and his quest to understand why. But just like Camus’ novel, this absurdist play is really about the philosophical intersection between death and the meaning of life, an existential study on intentions. It’s also shocking, bizarre, and hysterically funny.

The Catastrophic Theatre first mounted THE STRANGERER in 2008. Ten years later, Catastrophic wisely reunited the original cast, as the company celebrates a decade of producing Maher’s work.

As the show progressed, I realized that I was slowly inching forward to the edge of my seat, eagerly anticipating the next absurdity. Director Charlie Scott is responsible for said poor posture. He stays true to Maher’s original script, clearly delighting in the character’s peculiarities and the deeper philosophical meaning. It’s clear that Scott wants you to enjoy yourself. He wants you to laugh, fully understanding that such a release will lessen the tension created by some very unfunny and occasionally incomprehensible actions by the characters on stage. Scott magically creates a safe space for audiences to be equally perplexed and amused. Best of all, you don’t have to be a student of philosophy or a pseudo-intellectual to really enjoy THE STRANGERER. You just have to be someone who is open to challenging ideas. Hats off to you, Mr. Scott.

I was shocked when Paul Locklear (George W. Bush) walked onto the stage; I gasped the first time he spoke. It’s as if ‘Dubya,’ in addition to painting, decided all of a sudden to take up acting, performing in local absurdist theatre about himself (how very meta and very Maher of a twist to behold). Locklear’s command of Bush is staggering. He nails 43’s pauses, posture and scowls, playing it frighteningly true to the man himself. Most notably, Locklear’s Bush is more than just funny. His “enthusiastical” and deeply “satisfictional” near constant malapropisms make his role as protagonist and chief truth revealer all the more potent. It was a joy to watch Locklear in this part.

The unflappable, deeply disimpassioned Jim Lehrer is played by Seán Patrick Judge, who is also currently performing the same role in JIM LEHRER AND THE THEATER AND ITS DOUBLE AND JIM LEHRER’S DOUBLE. Judge’s restraint, particularly when set against Locklear’s “theatricausations,” is both startling and utterly convincing. Best known as a “seasoned, even-handed member of the press,” Lehrer is comedically stoic, even when Bush attacks his opponent, claiming that “killing the ‘modulator’ of the debate is not a priority of Kerry.” Troy Schulze is well-cast as Senator John Kerry. Though his look isn’t dead on (that would require a mask or extensive prosthetics), he nails Kerry’s voice and general presence with precision. This really is the Dubya show; Locklear as Bush steals every scene, however Schulze’s minimal part is played to the hilt, as stiff and straight-laced as you’d imagine Kerry in such a situation, provided that the situation was BLACK MIRROR and Kerry had gone completely insane due to sleep-deprivation.

It would be easy for Locklear, Judge and Schulze to cross over into mockery, to present their characters as caricatures. But the absurdity of it all, combined with the layered, thoughtful struggle of Bush trying to articulate his actions and ascribe meaning to what appears senseless, grounds the production.

The Catastrophic Theatre consistently selects teams who deliver greatness. Standouts in this production are Hudson Davis (lighting design) and Shawn St. John (sound design). Without their genius, the show would falter beyond recognition.

THE STRANGERER is as ambitious conceptually as it is comedically. It’s not a show for the faint of heart, nor is it suitable for proper, traditional, or humorless Houstonians. Without question, this production will send a shock wave through your system. After the show, I overheard audience members asking each other, “Did they actually just do that?” YES! Resounding yes. And you’ll be better off because of it.

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