Categories
Plays

Next Stop: North Korea

 

 

 

 

Next Stop: North Korea

Written and Performed by John Feffer

Directed by Angela Kay Pirko

DC Arts Center, March 1 – 24, 2019

Order Tickets HERE.

How far would you travel to help other people? How many compromises would you make?

In this new one-man show, acclaimed playwright and performer John Feffer brings audiences as close to North Korea as they can get without a visa and an airplane ticket. Based on his visits to the country and the work he did there, Feffer explores the challenges of doing good in a morally ambiguous environment. He takes you inside Kim Il Sung’s mausoleum, up and down the Tower of the Juche Idea, out to the North Korean countryside, and into the hearts and minds of North Koreans themselves. Follow along as this “brilliant writer and performer” (Washington City Paper) brings you on an alternately funny, sobering, and thrilling trip of a lifetime.

REVIEW: Rave from Washington Diplomat: “Like all of Feffer’s varied writing, “Next Stop: North Korea” is delicious from start to finish.” Read it here.

REVIEW: Rave from The Nation: “As entertainment that deftly mixes history, satire, pathos, and comedy, Next Stop: North Korea is an unqualified success.” Read it here.

REVIEW: Four stars from DC Theatre Scene: read it here.

REVIEW: Thumb’s up from Broadway World: “Feffer is a brilliantly descriptive writer adept at fleshing out the details of people and the situations they encounter…this production is unique and deserves to be seen.” Read it here.

SNEAK PREVIEW of the show at DC Theatre Scene HERE.

And here’s a link to a recent article about the show from United Press International.

John Feffer is the writer and performer of the critically acclaimed one-man shows The Bird, Edible Rex, and Stuff. He is a recipient of a solo performance award in 2016 from the Maryland State Arts Council.

Angela Kay Pirko is a DC-based director and actor. She is a member of the 2014 Lincoln Center Directors Lab, two-time member of the Directors’ Studio at Shakespeare Theatre Company, and the co-producer/resident director for Nu Sass Productions.

 

Some photos from the production (credit: Angela Kay Pirko)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Art Articles Featured Plays

A Peek at Paper

A teacher and a student argue over a remark in class. Or was it a remark about class? Or was it really about race? Or gender?

My new play Paper brings the explosive confrontations on campus around race, class, and gender onto the stage. Take Rashomon, add Mamet, mix in Black Lives Matter, and stand back.

Sophia, meanwhile, is taken aback by what she considers Emmanuel’s arrogance. She is also quite critical of his first submission to the class, a short story that has no characters and no plot. She wants her students to learn the rules before they start breaking them. That’s the “she said” part of the play.Paper brings us into the office of Sophia, a novelist and professor of writing. An African American student in her graduate fiction seminar, Emmanuel, comes in for a meeting just after the two have had an argument in the classroom. Emmanuel is unhappy with his teacher’s patronizing attitudes toward her students. He also takes exception to what he considers the appropriation of African American culture in her novels. That’s the “he said” part of the play.

Then, in the surprising “they said” finale, we see whether the two characters can break out of their roles to end the downward spiral of confrontation. 

With Paper, I was interested in the simultaneously liberating and confining nature of social categories. I was also intrigued by how language cleaves us, that is, both connects us and divides us. I’m fascinated with words like “cleave,” contronyms that have two entirely opposite meanings. At a certain level, as one character in Paper points out, all words are contronyms depending on how we choose to interpret them.

Paper tries to answer this vexing question: are we destined by the ambiguities of language and the determinants of race, class, and gender to repeat the tragedies of the past and the misunderstandings of the present?

Paper is my eighth Fringe production in nine years. My previous shows – Krapp’s Last Power Point, Edible Rex, The Bird, The Pundit, The Politician, Interrogation and Stuff – have all garnered rave reviews. In DC Theatre Scene, Christopher Henley called Stuff, “a lovely, wonderfully written, beautifully detailed, and resonant solo show that I can wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who will read this review.” Interrogation was lauded in DC Metro Theatre Arts as “a deftly told dark comedy about a serious and timely subject that immerses the audience completely in its creative story.” And the Washington City Paper wrote “Feffer is a brilliant writer and performer” in its review of Edible Rex.

Paper is directed by Scott Sedar, who has acted at most of the professional theaters in the DC area and directed for the D.C. Writer’s Workshop and Playwright’s Forum. Assistant director Phillip Chang was a bboy/breakdancer with local urban styles dance group Urban Artistry for five years before getting into acting and comedy.

Our actors are also well known to DC audiences. S. Rex Carnegie (Emmanuel) has performed for the Atlas, Discovery Theater, and the National Museum of African American History & Culture, and is also the TV host of “Seriously Amazing Objects” on the Smithsonian Channel. Hilary Kacser (Sophia) is a long time actor regionally and internationally on stage and screen, participated in seven Fringe productions including DisordR, The Play, and can also be seen on Seasons 3 and 4 of House of Cards.

Tickets for paper can be purchased here.

DC Theatre Scene, June 24, 2017

Categories
Plays

Paper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PAPER

a new play by John Feffer

Teacher and student argue over a remark in class. Or a remark about class. Or was it race? Or gender? Take Rashomon, add Mamet, mix in Black Lives Matter, and stand back.

Venue: Trinidad Theatre at Fringe HQ (1358 Florida Ave., NE).
Runtime: 75 minutes
Show times:
July 9 @ 2 pm
July 12 @ 7:15 pm
July 16 @ 11:30 am
July 20 @ 5:30 pm
July 22 @ 1:45 pm.

Order tickets HERE.

Paper is directed by Scott Sedar, who has acted at most of the professional theaters in the DC area and directed for the D.C. Writer’s Workshop and Playwright’s Forum.

Assistant director Phillip Chang was a bboy/breakdancer with local urban styles dance group Urban Artistry for five years before getting into acting and comedy.

Hilary Kacser (Sophia) is a long time actor regionally and internationally on stage and screen, participated in seven Fringe productions including DisordR, The Play, and can also be seen on Seasons 3 and 4 of House of Cards.

S. Rex Carnegie (Emmanuel) has performed for the Atlas, Discovery Theater, and the National Museum of African American History & Culture, and is also the TV host of “Seriously Amazing Objects” on the Smithsonian Channel.

Reviews and Articles about Paper

Paper is Best of Fringe 2017Five stars from DC Metro Theater Arts. Jane Franklin writes, “See Paper and you’ll see just how far the table can turn.”

Paper is “Fringetastic” — DCist pays us its highest compliment.

“The Politics of ‘Paper'” — Breaching the Fourth Wall

Preview of Paper in DC Theatre Scene

 



Photo top left by Scott Sedar; other photos by Courtney Cunningham




















 

Reviews of Stuff

5 Stars from DC Theatre Scene: “It’s a lovely, wonderfully written, beautifully detailed, and resonant solo show that I can wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who will read this review,” writes Christopher Henley.

5 Stars and Pick of the Fringe from DC Metro Theatre Arts: “Thought-provoking and comedic, John Feffer’s Stuff will engage you from start to finish. Who knows? Maybe he will inspire you too,” writes Lauren Katz.

 

Reviews of Interrogation

The Washington Post says that Interrogation provides “an unsettling view of reality.”

Staff pick at DC Theatre Scene. “Feffer’s familiarity with Capital Fringe is apparent, and he uses this knowledge to make the work truly immersive,” writes John Bavoso. “It’s a show that makes you uncomfortable, makes you think (both about government surveillance and the nature of being a theatre-goer), and keeps you on the edge of your seat.”

Five stars and Pick of the Fringe from DCMTA. Yvonne French says, “Interrogation is a deftly told dark comedy about a serious and timely subject that immerses the audience completely in its creative story.” Warning: some spoilers in the review….

Washingtonian selects us as one of the shows to see in the 2014 festival

 

Reviews of The Politician

Five stars and Best of Fringe from DC Metro Theater Arts

DC Broadway World calls The Politician a brilliant mix of theater and politics. “Go, just go….”

Hill Rag calls The Politician “another highly satisfying satire that condemns the Beltway life while resting snugly inside of it” with “a fantastic ensemble cast, whose members change roles more often than people in Washington change opinion.”

Women Around Town says “The Politician shows us what happens when the cameras stop rolling. You’ll never watch a talking head again without thinking of this play. If you missed last year’s The Pundit, don’t miss The Politician.”

Washington Speaks: The Politician “scores a big win.”

Politico interview with John Feffer and Conor Scanlan about the world of The Politician
Huffington Post article: American Politics Needs More Drama

 

Reviews of The Pundit

New York: NYTheater.com

Five stars and Pick of the Fringe from DC Theatre Scene!

5 stars from DC Metro Theater Arts!

“Deflates its target with a sharp satiric pin,” said The Washington Post.

 

Recent Articles

 

Biography

John Feffer works at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC, where he directs the Foreign Policy In Focus project. He was recently an Open Society Foundation Fellow, retracing his steps in Eastern Europe from 23 years ago. He is the author of several books, including the novel Foamers (Scribner, 1997). You can find more about his books, his articles, and his biography elsewhere on this website.

 

From the Creator of:

The Bird

Edible Rex

Krapp’s Last PowerPoint

Categories
Featured Plays

Stuff

STUFF

jf-tetri-ture2-01

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RETURNING TO DC: SPRING 2016

March 3, 4, 10, 17, 19 @ 8 pm
March 13 @ 4 pm

Studio 1469 in Columbia Heights (1469 Harvard St)

Tickets on sale HERE

 

stuff pic 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A mother gives away her most cherished possessions and reveals her most closely guarded secrets. Other real-life characters describe their own stuff: a filled-to-bursting storage unit of train memorabilia, an art collection lost to the wrecking ball, a Moscow meeting with Paul Robeson, and a long-lost file box of knowledge.

Written and performed by John Feffer
Directed by Natalia Gleason
Image by Adwoa Masozi

Running time: 75 minutes.

 

 

stuff pic 2

 

REVIEWS OF STUFF

5 Stars from DC Theatre Scene: “It’s a lovely, wonderfully written, beautifully detailed, and resonant solo show that I can wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who will read this review,” writes Christopher Henley.

5 Stars and Pick of the Fringe from DC Metro Theatre Arts: “Thought-provoking and comedic, John Feffer’s Stuff will engage you from start to finish. Who knows? Maybe he will inspire you too,” writes Lauren Katz.

 

stuff pic 3

BACKGROUND ON STUFF

An article at the Washington Beacon that includes excerpts from an interview with the author

The politics of Stuff: interview at Indie Theater Now

Video excerpt on YouTube

“The Lacquer Box” — an excerpt published at Huffington Post

Sneak preview in DC Theatre Scene on the difference between stuff and shit (nod to George Carlin).

Sneak preview in DC Metro Theater Arts on the challenges of dealing with your parents’ stuff when they’re gone.

stuff pic 4

REVIEWS OF INTERROGATION

The Washington Post says that Interrogation provides “an unsettling view of reality.”

Staff pick at DC Theatre Scene. “Feffer’s familiarity with Capital Fringe is apparent, and he uses this knowledge to make the work truly immersive,” writes John Bavoso. “It’s a show that makes you uncomfortable, makes you think (both about government surveillance and the nature of being a theatre-goer), and keeps you on the edge of your seat.”

Five stars and Pick of the Fringe from DCMTA. Yvonne French says, “Interrogation is a deftly told dark comedy about a serious and timely subject that immerses the audience completely in its creative story.” Warning: some spoilers in the review….

Washingtonian selects us as one of the shows to see in the 2014 festival

 

REVIEWS OF THE POLITICIAN

Five stars and Best of Fringe from DC Metro Theater Arts

DC Broadway World calls The Politician a brilliant mix of theater and politics. “Go, just go….”

Hill Rag calls The Politician “another highly satisfying satire that condemns the Beltway life while resting snugly inside of it” with “a fantastic ensemble cast, whose members change roles more often than people in Washington change opinion.”

Women Around Town says “The Politician shows us what happens when the cameras stop rolling. You’ll never watch a talking head again without thinking of this play. If you missed last year’s The Pundit, don’t miss The Politician.”

Washington Speaks: The Politician “scores a big win.”

Politico interview with John Feffer and Conor Scanlan about the world of The Politician
Huffington Post article: American Politics Needs More Drama

 

REVIEWS OF THE PUNDIT

New York: NYTheater.com

Five stars and Pick of the Fringe from DC Theatre Scene!

5 stars from DC Metro Theater Arts!

“Deflates its target with a sharp satiric pin,” said The Washington Post.

 

READ RECENT WRITINGS

 

 

BIOGRAPHY

John Feffer works at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC, where he directs the Foreign Policy In Focus project. He was recently an Open Society Foundation Fellow, retracing his steps in Eastern Europe from 23 years ago. He is the author of several books, including the novel Foamers (Scribner, 1997). You can find more about his books, his articles, and his biography elsewhere on this website.

 

 

FROM THE CREATOR OF…

 

The Bird

 

Edible Rex

 

Krapp’s Last Power Point

 

PHOTOS

 

From Interrogation
From Interrogation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Interrogation (with Michael Crowley)
From Interrogation (with Michael Crowley)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From The Bird
From The Bird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From The Pundit (with Sean Coe)
From The Pundit (with Sean Coe)

 

Categories
Featured Plays

Before/After

BEFORE/AFTER

Reading of a new play by John Feffer

Part of the European Month of Culture
Supported by the Delegation of the European Union to the United States
90 minutes

Before/After is a multimedia portrait of the transformation of East-Central Europe told by the people who made it happen. Through words, pictures, video, and music, it tells the story of the people who chipped away at the Iron Curtain, tore down the Berlin Wall in 1989, and tried to realize their hopes and dreams in the decades that followed. Drawn from interviews with people from the region, the reading will be performed by 12 actors. It is directed by Natalia Gleason.

Before/After is a staged reading starring Ashley Amidon, Michael Crowley, Karen Elle, John Feffer, Stuart Fischer, Mario Font, Tony Hacsi, Olivia Haller, Joseph Mariano, Matt Neufeld, Karin Rosnizeck, Scott Sedar, and Carol Spring. It will also feature: Gordon Adams, Zach Brewster-Geisz, Sean Coe, Sandy Irving, Doug Krehbel, Emily Morrison, Gabriela Pohl, Michael Sigler, and Vanessa Terzaghi

Now online here

Let’s Talk About Poland: 
“Before and After”
Thursday May 26, 6 pm
Kosciuszko Foundation
2025 O St. NW
with Maciej Pisarski of the Polish embassy
and Kasia Klimasinska of Bloomberg News

 

 

May 6
NYU DC, 1307 L St., NW
4 pm: panel discussion
6:30 pm: performance
Register here

May 14
Atlas Performing Arts
1333 H St., NE
7:30 pm
Tickets here

May 20
Goethe Institut
812 7th St., NW
7 pm
Register here

All performances are free

 

May 6, NYU Panel Discussion, 4 pm

Post-World War II tensions instigated the Cold War rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union that lasted for much of the second half of the 20th century.  These tensions resulted in mutual suspicions, heightened tensions and a series of international incidents that brought the world’s superpowers, and the world, to the brink of disaster.

In August of 1961, the Communist government of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) started constructing a barbed wire and concrete “Antifascistischer Schutzwall,” between East and West Berlin. The purpose of the Wall was to keep Western “fascists” from entering East Germany and undermining the socialist state, but it primarily served the objective of stemming mass defections from East to West. The Berlin Wall stood until November 9, 1989, when the head of the East German Communist Party announced that citizens of the East Berlin could cross the border freely. Still today, the Berlin Wall remains one of the most powerful and enduring symbols of the Cold War.

Join this panel of experts, several of whom grew up in eastern Europe during this time, as they discuss the impact and social issues relating to the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

 

Categories
Plays Uncategorized

Interrogation

Door prizes!

Interrogation is the latest dark comedy from John Feffer.

Written and performed by John Feffer

Directed by Matty Griffiths

 

Busboys and Poets

5th and K, NW
Washington, DC

12/11: 8 pm (talkback with Marc Rotenberg)

12/15: 8 pm (talkback with Greg Nojeim)

 

Facebook: interrogationatbusboys

 

$15 suggested donation at the door

 

Graphics by Adwoa Masozi: SPECTRA Design & Multimedia

 

REVIEWS OF INTERROGATION



The Washington Post says that Interrogation provides “an unsettling view of reality.”

Staff pick at DC Theatre Scene. “Feffer’s familiarity with Capital Fringe is apparent, and he uses this knowledge to make the work truly immersive,” writes John Bavoso. “It’s a show that makes you uncomfortable, makes you think (both about government surveillance and the nature of being a theatre-goer), and keeps you on the edge of your seat.”

Five stars and Pick of the Fringe from DCMTA. Yvonne French says, “Interrogation is a deftly told dark comedy about a serious and timely subject that immerses the audience completely in its creative story.” Warning: some spoilers in the review….

Washingtonian selects us as one of the shows to see in the 2014 festival





BACKGROUND ON INTERROGATION

When Government Breaks the Fourth Wall — Huffington Post article on Interrogation

Interview in Woman Around Town with John Feffer

DC Theatre Scene provides a peak at Interrogation

Sneak preview article on Interrogation at DC Metro Theater Arts

My article on “participatory totalitarianism”
My article on the “surveillance blitz”

 

Postcard-interrogation-final

 

 

This production is presented as a part of the 2014 Capital Fringe Festival, a program of the Washington, DC non-profit Capital Fringe

Straight_line

REVIEWS OF THE POLITICIAN

Five stars and Best of Fringe from DC Metro Theater Arts

DC Broadway World calls The Politician a brilliant mix of theater and politics. “Go, just go….”

Hill Rag calls The Politician “another highly satisfying satire that condemns the Beltway life while resting snugly inside of it” with “a fantastic ensemble cast, whose members change roles more often than people in Washington change opinion.”

Women Around Town says “The Politician shows us what happens when the cameras stop rolling. You’ll never watch a talking head again without thinking of this play. If you missed last year’s The Pundit, don’t miss The Politician.”

Washington Speaks: The Politician “scores a big win.”

Politico interview with John Feffer and Conor Scanlan about the world of The Politician
Huffington Post article: American Politics Needs More Drama

 

REVIEWS OF THE PUNDIT

New York: NYTheater.com

Five stars and Pick of the Fringe from DC Theatre Scene!

5 stars from DC Metro Theater Arts!

“Deflates its target with a sharp satiric pin,” said The Washington Post.

 

READ RECENT WRITINGS

 

 

BIOGRAPHY

John Feffer works at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC, where he co-directs the Foreign Policy In Focus project. He was recently an Open Society Foundation Fellow, retracing his steps in Eastern Europe from 23 years ago. He is the author of several books, including the novel Foamers (Scribner, 1997). You can find more about his books, his articles, and his biography elsewhere on this website.

 

 

FROM THE CREATOR OF…

 

The Bird

 

Edible Rex

 

Krapp’s Last Power Point

 

Categories
Art Articles Featured Human Rights Plays US Domestic Policy

When Government Breaks the Fourth Wall

You’re at the theater. You’re sitting in your seat, paying attention to what’s going on in front of you. If the play is any good, you’ve completely forgotten that you’re sitting in a theater. You are absorbed in the new world unfolding in front of you. The theater has cast a spell over you.

Then, suddenly, the actor on stage turns to the audience and begins speaking directly to you. He’s no longer pretending to be an actor. The spell is abruptly broken. You become aware of your surroundings: the hardness of your seat, the harsh lights on the stage, the odor emanating from the person next to you. You become alert to how the director and the actors have conspired to manipulate you. Or, at least, this was how audiences originally reacted when plays began to deploy such tactics.

In theater parlance, the actor has broken the fourth wall. This is the invisible wall that runs across the front of the stage, which everyone in the theater pretends doesn’t exist. The fourth wall is essential to our willed suspension of disbelief. Yes, yes, we know that they’re actors. But for a brief period of time, they pretend and we pretend and the drama floats in the air on the updraft of this make-believe.

Our relationship with the government is similar. We vote. We pay taxes. We serve on juries. For most us, that’s our relationship with government. Otherwise, we sit in the audience of our living room and watch as the political drama — the occasional tragedy, the inevitable comedy — unspools before us on the nightly news or in the articles in the newspaper. A fourth wall separates us from our representative democracy. If we don’t break the law or start working for government, the wall remains in place.

Edward Snowden — and a variety of other whistleblowers — exposed a different reality. The government has been breaking the fourth wall on a consistent basis when it puts us all under surveillance. We thought that the NSA and the CIA were only focused on external targets. We thought there was a wall that protected U.S. citizens. We were wrong.

The shock of government surveillance is comparable to the surprise that accompanies the breaking of the fourth wall in the theater. The German playwright Bertolt Brecht frequently used this “alienation effect” to jolt his audiences from their complacency. He called attention to the devices of the theater in order to expose how plays covertly play with the emotions of audiences. Originally, this breaking of the fourth wall was profoundly shocking to audiences. But Brecht’s techniques have been absorbed into the theater mainstream (and TV as well, as Frank Underwood’s asides to the camera demonstrate in House of Cards). It takes more to shock us in the theater these days.

Edward Snowden is the Bertolt Brecht of the surveillance age. He has pulled back the curtain to reveal the manipulations of our national security complex. In so doing, he has shocked many Americans out of their complacency. He has also revealed that what we thought might have been an exception (like Watergate or Cointelpro) has now become routine.

In my new play, Interrogation, I’ve tried to bring Edward Snowden and Bertolt Brecht together on the stage. Interrogation is a cautionary tale about this new world of surveillance cameras and GPS locators and omnipresent social media. It’s set in Washington, DC. And it’s being performed in Washington — at the Capital Fringe Festival this month beginning on Thursday.

It all sounds pretty grim. Edward Snowden is not exactly a stand-up comedian, and the NSA is not SNL.

But Interrogation is a comedy. Well, a dark comedy. Think of it as Dr. Strangelove for the Snowden era: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the NSA.

Oh, and we’re also offering door prizes. Even Brecht would have approved of that — just as long as I tell you about it beforehand.

 

Huffington Post, July 9, 2014

 

Categories
Featured Plays Uncategorized

The Politician

A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

Peter Peters returns as a ruthless politician in a full-length show that combines last year’s Fringe hit The Pundit with its thrilling sequel. “Deflates its target with a sharp satiric pin,” said The Washington Post of last year’s sold-out run.

Written by John Feffer

Directed by Doug Krehbel

Starring Sean Coe as the politician, with Michael Crowley, Morganne Davies*, Lisa Hodsoll, Ethan A. Kitts, Conor Scanlan, and Sarah Strasser.

*Member, Actors Equity Association

Capital Fringe Festival

Goethe Institut Main Stage
812 7th St. NW
Washington, DC

7/12 @ 6 pm
7/14 @ 5:30 pm
7/20 @ 6 pm
7/24 @ 5:45 pm
7/28 @ 12 pm

Facebook: thepoliticianatthefringe
tickets: 866.811.4111
Graphics by Adwoa Masozi: grafixgenie.com

REVIEWS OF THE POLITICIAN

Five stars and Best of Fringe from DC Metro Theater Arts

DC Broadway World calls The Politician a brilliant mix of theater and politics. “Go, just go….”

Hill Rag calls The Politician “another highly satisfying satire that condemns the Beltway life while resting snugly inside of it” with “a fantastic ensemble cast, whose members change roles more often than people in Washington change opinion.”

Women Around Town says “The Politician shows us what happens when the cameras stop rolling. You’ll never watch a talking head again without thinking of this play. If you missed last year’s The Pundit, don’t miss The Politician.”

Washington Speaks: The Politician “scores a big win.”

 

READ ABOUT THE POLITICIAN

Politico interview with John Feffer and Conor Scanlan about the world of The Politician

Huffington Post article: American Politics Needs More Drama

Preview in DC Theatre Scene
Preview in DC Metro Theater Arts

Washingtonian puts The Politician on its must-see list

Veteran fringer Brett Abelman gives The Politician “ringer” status on his CapFringe 2013 round up

This production is presented as a part of the 2013 Capital Fringe Festival, a program of the Washington, DC non-profit Capital Fringe

 

 

 

REVIEWS OF THE PUNDIT

New York: NYTheater.com

Five stars and Pick of the Fringe from DC Theatre Scene!

5 stars from DC Metro Theater Arts!

“Deflates its target with a sharp satiric pin,” said The Washington Post.

Also:

Washingtonian recommended us

And so did the Pink Line Project

 

READ ABOUT THE PUNDIT

 

Playing the Pundit in Huffington Post

Article in Broadway World

Background article in the Washingtonian

Video interview at Politico with me and Doug Krehbel, the director

Washington Post: Sneak preview of five shows, including The Pundit 

First Look at The Pundit in DC Theatre Scene

Preview in DC Metro Theatre Arts

 

READ RECENT WRITINGS

 

 

BIOGRAPHY

John Feffer is currently an Open Society Foundation Fellow, retracing his steps in Eastern Europe from 23 years ago. He is the author of several books, including the novel Foamers (Scribner, 1997). He works at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC, where he co-directs the Foreign Policy In Focus project. You can find more about his books, his articles, and his biography elsewhere on this website.

 

 

FROM THE CREATOR OF…

 

The Bird

 

Edible Rex

 

Krapp’s Last Power Point

 

Categories
Art Articles Featured Plays

American Politics Needs More Drama

I like my politics the way I like my baseball. I prefer to wait for the highlights reel.

Like baseball, political events in Washington, D.C. tend to be long and boring, punctuated by the occasional home run speech or graceful double-play legislative maneuver in Congress. Have you ever wondered why, when you turn on C-Span, the legislators give their speeches to nearly empty chambers? It’s not just that our representatives are busy with meetings or fundraising back in their districts. Those stem-winders in Congress are, with occasional exceptions, real snoozers.

Ever read the National Defense Authorization Act? Not exactly a page-turner. Ever attend a hearing on health care reform? Not exactly action-packed. Remember Al Franken when he was on Saturday Night Live? Funny guy! And what about Al Franken today in the Senate? Now he’s the straight man.

But like baseball, the condensed version of politics can be thrilling. The epic rise of Barack Obama to the presidency, the tragic fall of his first challenger John McCain, the decision to go to war in Iraq, the revelations of NSA spying: all of these are fascinating stories. But when subjected to the long, drawn-out, and frequently spurious analysis of the 24-hour news cycle, even these stories become tedious.

We desperately want more drama in politics. That’s why West Wing was such a popular TV show. That’s why there have been so many political thrillers set in Washington. That’s why Jon Stewart and Rush Limbaugh are so popular: they share little in common except for the fact that neither of them is boring.

As a foreign policy analyst at a Washington think tank, I’ve spent a lot of my time with GAO reports, lengthy commentaries on minute shifts in the North Korean bureaucracy, and weighty seminars at the Wilson Center. Sure, I find this stuff interesting. But I don’t expect anyone but my fellow wonks to want to parse the details over a beer.

In the evenings, though, I condense all of this politics into drama. My latest play, The Politician, is a tragicomedy about an arrogant pundit who quickly proves the Peter Principle — that individuals rise to their level of incompetence — by becoming an important player in the State Department.

Peter Peters starts out as a foreign policy expert at The Center, a think tank at the center of the political spectrum and at the center of Washington, DC. He is a skilled media commentator who, because of the demands of the news universe, is an expert on everything, including topics he knows nothing about.

The curtain opens on a very heavy news day in the nation’s capital. Peter Peters has a succession of interviews lined up. At his first interview, the program switches topics on him at the last moment: Can he talk about the latest terrorist attack in Khazaria? With hardly a pause, he agrees. Within minutes he’s pontificating about a terrorist attack in a tiny country he can’t locate on the map.

It’s a command performance, and it earns him a new status as an area expert. But it also puts him smack in the middle of a terrorist plot that eventually entangles his family as well. If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, complete ignorance is positively explosive.

The tension only ratchets up when Peters moves from the media world into the State Department. Having acquired his position more because of connections than competence, he quickly demonstrates that he has not learned his earlier lesson. Arrogance and ignorance compete for the upper hand in his psyche. Once again thrust into a national security emergency, he conducts himself according to the adage made popular by Rahm Emanuel: a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. The result is drama at its most Greek.

In The Politician, I have created my own political highlights reel. I’ve brought together terrorism, war, media frenzy, political infighting, espionage, and Washington-style duplicity. It is political satire at a high dramatic pitch.

Of course I want the audience to leave the theater saying that they enjoyed all 110 minutes of The Politician and they’ll tell all their friends to see it this July at the Capital Fringe festival in Washington, DC. But most of all, I want them coming out of the theater as if they’ve just watched a particularly satisfying Major League round up: “That was not only a great play, that was a grand slam!”

Huffington Post, July 8, 2013

 

Categories
Art Articles Featured Plays

Playing the Pundit

As a pundit, I’ve had my share of uncomfortable moments. I’ve been in front of the cameras and suddenly blanked on the name of a former South Korean president or the precise year when North Korea conducted its first nuclear test. Such embarrassing lapses, for a Korean expert at least, are comparable to forgetting your own child’s birthday. Still, you develop workarounds for these moments, and they pass.

The challenges began to multiply when I moved from being a Korea specialist to an expert in U.S. foreign policy more generally. Suddenly I was expected to know something about practically every area of the world. I grew accustomed to conducting last-minute crams, just like high school the night before a test. I became a temporary pundit on political strife in Yemen, territorial disputes in the South China Sea, drone strikes in Pakistan. I was, literally, all over the map.

Sometimes late-breaking news has hip-checked my scheduled interview topic clear off the agenda. On television, of course, you don’t have the luxury of digging up an apt statistic on the computer or even your smartphone. Sometimes you just have to wing it.

I once arrived at a TV station to talk about Libya just as the news was breaking about a suspected Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington.

“We’d like to ask you about this breaking news,” my handler told me. When I confessed that I knew only as much about the topic as I’d gleaned from a subject line in my email inbox, she directed me toward a computer.

“We have a couple minutes before you’re on the air,” she said and walked away.

Punditry is never having to say, “I don’t know.”

Performance is an essential element of punditry. Once you sit before a microphone or in front of the cameras, you become a different person. Academics have to master the art of the sound bite. Journalists have to make their words come alive. And policy wonks have to attempt the impossible and become entertaining. For any of these talking heads, ignorance is not an option. The interviewer — and by extension, the audience — expects answers that are short and sweet, and that, preferably, predict the future.

The transformation into a media-friendly pundit comes at a price. “For $4,000 to $10,000 a day, trainers who are as ethically and intellectually diverse as journalists themselves teach the art of performing for the press,” Trudy Lieberman writes in a 2004 article in the Columbia Journalism Review. “Thirty years ago many members of Congress did not have press secretaries, let alone coaches to show them how to behave in front of a camera. Today it’s a rare public soul who had not been media trained.”

Lieberman outlines the basics of the training. Above all, take control of the interview, dodge the uncomfortable question if you must, rely on platitude if all else fails, but always remember to stay on message. Savvy pundits know what they want to say before the interviewer even utters the first question, and they rehearse their lines accordingly. They are expert at answering the questions they want to answer rather than the questions that are asked.

The unspoken requirement that pundits must now be performers explains, in part, the ease with which actors have turned themselves into spokespeople for serious issues. George Clooney on Sudan, Angelina Jolie on refugees, Richard Gere on Tibet, Sean Penn on Haiti: entertainers have increasingly taken time from their dramatic lives to play the pundit in front of Congress and the cameras. The politicians love them, and so does the media. Celebrities speak in quotable chunks, and they’re pretty to boot.

Going the other way, however, is relatively rare. Pundits, after all, usually have faces that are made for radio.

James Carville has made cameos in the movies Old School and Wedding Crashers. On the other side of the aisle, Grover Norquist, the anti-tax maven, has a bit part in the upcoming Ayn Rand blockbuster Atlas Shrugged. And, of course, media maven Marshall McCluhan appeared out of nowhere to bail Woody Allen out of a movie-queue confrontation with an intellectual boor inAnnie Hall.

The cavalier relationship between pundits and the world they are commenting on provoked me to write The Pundit, a play in the New York Fringe this August that explores the dictum that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. The main character, Peter Peters, is a pundit at a Washington, D.C., think tank. He’s an expert on everything, even things he’s never heard of. Adept at playing the inside game, Peters is on the short list for an administration appointment. Everything goes smoothly until he agrees to talk about a terrorist attack in a country that he can’t even locate on the map. What starts out as a conflict in a far-off place eventually hits home.

In The Pundit, I’ve smuggled the drama of my media and foreign policy experience into the theater. I’ve exaggerated the political power plays of Washington, but not by much. I’ve played up the insularity of the inside-the-Beltway mentality, but even non-Washingtonians will instantly recognize the syndrome. The Pundit is a play, but it is also my reality. I’m grateful that I’m a pundit and that I can also play one on stage.

After my previous one-man shows, some of the most enthusiastic audience members urged me to quit my day job. The less enchanted few grumbled to their partners that I should keep my day job. This time around, with The Pundit, I can honestly reply to both factions: my dear, this is my day job.

Ruslan X (Sean Coe) squares off against Peter Peters (John Feffer)