Looking for George

Looking for George
directed by Stephanie Burlington Daniels
video collage designed by Elliott Mazzola
Soto Clemente Velez Cultural Center, NYC
June 2007

It all began in August 2006 when one of my students, my sixteen-year-old niece, and I were sitting around very depressed about the war. As a way of pulling us out of the doldrums, I declared Thursdays “Dadaist letters to the President night” and that evening inaugurated our weekly campaign of writing to George. A few other people joined us from their homes and the only requirement we kept is that the letters be mailed out on Friday mornings. In all the five months we were writing letters, none of us ever received a reply.

The other letter writers were:

Steven Bell
Alison DeLisi
Natalie Holtzer
Margot Hopkins
Elisabeth Lohmueller
Reinhard Mayer
Amanda Weir

When director Stephanie Burlington invited me to work on a new play with the Lynx Ensemble Theater, I took the opportunity to translate the letters into a dramatic form. During that time, it occurred to me that Today Show style television weather reports would make an excellent contrasting backdrop to the desperate pleas of citizens whose locations would be indicated by where they would stand on a map line drawing of the United States. In other words, a tableau of America’s obsession with the weather juxtaposed with our alternating denial, fear, and abhorrence of the political climate.

In the first part, there’s very little direct interaction between the six characters, who represent a variety of viewpoints that contradict each other but not in overt displays of conflict. My main preoccupation with this project was to re-locate the conflict from our various opinions to one that addresses citizens in conflict with the government. My position is that our arguments with each other are immaterial compared with the ways the Bush administration duped, deceived, and basically screwed all American citizens — as well as Iraqi citizens.

Part two evolved into a return to childhood, with the backdrop of a cartoon-like oval office, and the six characters “playing” George for each other (with George puppets) — all his own words. Though we’ve heard his many malapropisms in public speeches, a new depth of shock and awe penetrates the mind when hearing them in sequence re-cast as answers to other questions in the poetic logic of collage. It’s not only his stupidity (hilarious, yes) that comes to the fore, but the callous brutality of a privileged man devoid of a conscience.



Dear George:
Just wanted to say hello and that I’m wondering why you haven’t written me in all these weeks. I know how busy you are, but I’ve written you five letters, and it’s rude of you not to even drop me a line saying something like, “hey, I’m here. Just swamped. I’ll write you in more detail soon.”

We know you’re making hard decisions and that you’re them carefully.

We know you would never be reckless with our children’s lives.

Yet I ask myself, why should I not want the very best for you? So far I have only expressed resentment for all that you have and abuse. What if your power, greed, duplicity, and confusion were all suddenly replaced with a miraculous understanding of the intangible values that would bring you a peaceful heart? What would happen then? It’s radical, I know. It’s unimaginable. But tonight I feel like dreaming.

Anyway, I’m going to bed now. It’s late. No word from you again today. And, frankly, I am not amused.

(Cut to undulating flower image. The undulations get faster and faster as GRACE’s lines reach a climax.)

I have nothing much to say except to speak my support. I support the President of the United States. I support all the decisions of the American Government regarding this war. I support spreading American freedom around the world. I support the American economy and way of life.

I support Walmart and Target and all our wonderful stores. I support Slimfast and Jenny Craig. I support Velveeta and Wheatina. I support CVS and all other multinational chains. I support Christianity and chemical weapons. I support Oprah and Dr. Phil. And I support taking care of me.

(Cut to a weather map with the title, “Why so cold?”)

You remind me what H. L. Mencken had once said about President Harding’s use of the English language. It is “a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm of pish, and crawls insanely up the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash.”

I’ve been forlorn this week, nearly inconsolable. I sent my five-year-old daughter to kindergarten on the morning of September 11th. Five years ago that day she was in her crib while our building shook from the blast of the second plane entering the tower.

My husband, an elegant Englishman, couldn’t believe it had been a terrorist attack after the first plane crashed. Then we moved away, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and he died. His childhood home in London was blown apart during the blitz when he was three, after which he suffered from a lifelong stutter. In other words, I know well the direct and indirect consequences of war.

I don’t know how to try to convince you of anything because that piece in the center of my head, the part where hope used to be located, has gone missing, it seems, forever.

(Cut to a news update.)

(accompanied by manic news “music”)
This is a News Channel 31 update.

(Cut to a local weather report in Channel 31’s studio.)

Well, good morning to you. It is four minutes before nine o’clock. We’re in such a good mood today because the weather’s so nice.

Let’s give the sunshine a round of applause.

(Cut to dark clouds, thunder, lightning. Then to ominous mountain vista.)

My fantasies of you are filled with love. We are in love. I help you with your hard job. You come to me at night, lay your head on my breast. We are inseparable. You are important. Your secretary buys me shoes. Because you know I love them. Is this how it could be? The two of us against the world?

I developed and presented a work-in-progress showing of this piece while a resident in Perishable Theatre’s RAPT program under the leadership of Executive Artistic Director Vanessa Gilbert. Subsequent showings, also directed by Stephanie Burlington Daniels, happened at Wheaton College; Amanda Weir later directed a showing for the Provincetown Theatre’s Winter Reading Series in February 2008.

Poster design: Elliott Mazzola