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The Trial of an American President

The fictional trial of President Bush is a means to reiterate the facts surrounding America’s aggression in the Middle East.

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Mahira Kakkar, Tony Carlin and Michael Rogers in a scene from “The Trial of an American President” (Photos credit: Ken Nahoum)

Mahira Kakkar, Tony Carlin and Michael Rogers in a scene from “The Trial of an American President” (Photos credit: Ken Nahoum)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

The Trial of an American President, by Dick Tarlow (with Bill Smith), takes wish fulfillment to the nth degree.  It starts from the supposition that President George H. Bush finally steps up to explain his “crimes against humanity.”  It is Tarlow’s conceit that President Bush decides, after much international outcry, to appear voluntarily before the International Criminal Court in The Hague in order that the world could once and for all understand his side of the war the United States waged against Iraq.  Bush declares that his intentions in starting the Iraq War were nobly, if not spiritually, justified, and completely legal—the facts be damned.

Trial takes place on Ann Beyersdorfer’s elegantly simple set, a black box platform with a sunken section in which Bush (Tony Carlin, playing Bush as a sniveling, stuttering tower of jello) sits, as the Prosecutor (a powerful, articulate Michael Rogers) prowls the stage like a cougar ready to strike.

A Narrator (the lovely Mahira Kakkar, civilized, yet full of righteous vigor) introduces the play and provides connecting material.  She relates that the United States, under Bush, undid our agreement to participate in the ICC, so that, technically, there was no way the international community could touch him.   However, after the United Nations condemns him—more wish fulfillment—he decides to show up under his own volition.

Tony Carlin and Michael Rogers in a scene from “The Trial of an American President” (Photos credit: Ken Nahoum)

Tony Carlin and Michael Rogers in a scene from “The Trial of an American President” (Photos credit: Ken Nahoum)

Marvelous newsreel style videos and films of talking heads—families of wounded and killed soldiers, torture victims, Dick Cheney, Tony Blair, Carl Rove and Laura Bush, etc.—add support and drama to the Bush’s triple indictment, namely accusations that he ordered a war of aggression, committed crimes of occupation and used outlawed torture methods.  (The projections are designed by Kevan Loney and the audio by Alex Dietz-Kest.)

Trial is stacked against Bush from the get-go.  The torrent of facts alone convicts him.  The director, Stephen Eich, the author and probably the actor, Mr. Carlin, seem to have decided to make Bush weak-voiced, full of twitches, nervous eye movements and religious fervor.  Had Bush been portrayed as a stronger man who truly believed in what he did, the play might have had a dramatic spine.  The very fact that after being convicted by a jury of audience members, Bush’s last word is a tearful outcry—“Laura”—serves to induce not empathy, but pity.

As written—and directed—Trial is an elegant, clear-eyed reiteration of all the awful facts about the real reasons Bush declared war such as Bush’s desire to get even for his father’s failed invasion of Iraq and the likelihood that Vice President Cheney and his chums lusted for control of Iraq’s oil resources. Despite this brilliant presentation of historical facts, the play’s denouement is obvious from the get-go draining the urgency from the dramatic experience.

The play also makes it quite clear that the invasion and its consequent disasters, fueled the rise if ISIS.

The Trial of an American President (through October 15, 2016)

The Lion Theatre at Theatre Row Theatres, 410 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit

For more information, visit

Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission

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Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (541 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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