In his long career, playwright Lee Blessing has often turned to political subjects, peopling his scripts with leaders and their attendants. There’s the African dictator’s mother in Going to St. Ives, the diplomats of A Walk in the Woods, the State Department official in Two Rooms, and the senile protagonist of Reagan in Hell, which features the 40th president consigned to the Inferno. Some of these plays, like A Walk in the Woods, draw on real people and events; others are pure fantasy.
Blessing’s latest, When We Go Upon the Sea, running at 59E59 Theaters as part of the Americas Off-Broadway festival, is a rather strained convergence of fact and fiction. Sometime in the near future, George W. Bush (Conan McCarty) finds himself charged with assorted war crimes. He spends the night before his trial in a hotel room near the Hague, aided by a helpful concierge (Peter Schmitz) and his slinky helpmeet (Kim Carson). With Laura and the twins safely ensconced in Texas, Bush spends his final night of freedom swigging bourbon, snorting cocaine, bedding a stranger, and succumbing to introspection.
McCarty little resembles the ex-prez in face, voice, or stature, which is mildly confusing. (At one point, I heard the woman behind me whisper helpfully to her husband, “That’s Bush, see?” Then she promptly fell asleep.) Nor do the events onstage provide a lot of insight into his character. Much of the play—which is both tedious and slight—functions as liberal wish fulfillment. The audience can enjoy the spectacle of Bush arrested. They can also relish his abandonment of sobriety and Christian principles. Finally, and this may be Blessing’s most implausible invention, they can comfort themselves that Bush is a man capable of brooding on his past actions and concluding that he “did a lot of harm.”