“This is not a satire or a comedy sketch… The text is almost verbatim,” announces actor Andy Wagner who wonderfully plays a composite of the moderators during his introduction which is quite serious.
It’s a 45-minute condensation of the three debates, that’s followed by a 15-minute audience discussion with the creators. The goal is to examine whether this gender-switching device causes “people to revisit their own personal biases and develop insights or a different perspective.”
All of the pronouns have been corrected to take into account this conceit. For example, Trump’s infamous retort, “nasty woman,” becomes “nasty man.”
Joining Mr. Wagner for his opening remarks are the performers. Rachel Tuggle Whorton plays “Brenda King” the Trump figure, and Daryl Embry plays “Jonathan Gordon” the Clinton character. All three are marvelously visualized by Márion Talán’s cleverly authentic costume design.
Wearing a red skirt suit with an American flag pin, and variously, blue and black blazers, Ms. Whorton is commanding. Subtly replicating Trump’s speech patterns and gestures, she powerfully channels his persona without resorting to a superficial impersonation. The sight of a woman so skillfully simulating Trump’s flamboyant braggadocio is a key element of Whorton’s indelible performance.
In a black suit, white shirt and black tie, the animated, sharp-featured Mr. Embry totally evokes Clinton’s verbal rhythms and authoritative manner. Embry’s spirited recitation of her statements forcefully captures her sensibility despite the gender reversal.
Wagner perfectly simulates the dryness and self-importance of the various moderators and makes a strong impression, though his back is to the audience much of the time.
The French economist and political scientist Maria Guadalupe and the American, NYU professor of educational theatre Joe Salvatore co-created this concept and collaborated on the script. Ms. Guadalupe and Mr. Salvatore have selected highly representative portions of the debates and woven them into a fascinating one-act program that is illustrative of the tone and substance of those three encounters.
Besides the gender agenda, hearing these exchanges compels one to relive the election and ponder the issues and candidates yet again. Particularly prescient and topical was the extract of Clinton’s declaration about Russian espionage and cyber hacking.
Mr. Salvatore’s staging is an artfully straightforward presentation with the two actors at simple black podiums with microphones, for much of the show. The scene transitions are accomplished with dimmed lighting, and the actors leaving and then reappearing, with Whorton’s clothing slightly altered.
Her Opponent is an enthralling and imaginative piece of documentary theater.
Her Opponent (through May 24, 2017)
Jerry Orbach Theatre at The Theater Center, 1627 Broadway, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-921-7862, or visit http://www.heropponent.com
Running time: 60 minutes with no intermission