Thursday, August 27, 2015

THE GOD GAFFE: Will A Christian Conservative TV Talk Show Personality Survive Her Controversial On-Air Remarks?

Reality and creative imagination cross paths in the theater when a play draws its inspiration from actual people or events. The writer begins with a topic that is worthy of digging into and then helps us to look at things in ways we hadn’t considered, or, alternatively, turns the situation into a springboard for lampooning. 

So partial thumbs up to John William Schiffbauer, whose play The God Gaffe takes on the very “now” issue of the high-profile clashes that occur between liberals and conservatives when they are given a chunk of media time, an audience in the millions, and a spotlight in which to have at each other. There is lots of fodder here that could provide food for thought or that could be exaggerated into a sharp satire.  As it stands, however, the play feels very much like an early draft, and it falls flat by following an exposition-heavy middle ground. 

The catalyst for The God Gaffe, one of the entries in the New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC), is the television talk show The View and the often-testy on-air disagreements that arise among its panelists. We’re talking specifically about Elisabeth Hasselbeck, a Christian conservative who frequently found herself locking horns with her co-panelists and guests on the show during her 10-year stint, before she finally left (or was pushed out) in 2013 and made her way over to the more receptive Fox Broadcasting. 

Hannah Beck plays Patricia, the Hasselbeck-like character whose job is on the line when she says something the network execs deem to be unacceptably offensive. 

Rather than letting us see the actual on-air incident as it happens, however, the playwright gives us a second-hand account of it during a meeting between Patricia and her executive producer Jeremy (Vincent Torres). The two of them have been on friendly terms during her time with the network, and she has been quite successful at pulling in a conservative demographic that feeds the ratings numbers, but without alienating the more liberal viewers. But her anti-gay remarks during an interview with a young guest have raised hackles in the front office. She must make a public apology or go on an immediate hiatus. 

The play’s strength lies in the depiction of Patricia as someone who is not an in-your-face wacko, the sort of self-identified Christian conservative whose extreme views are usually the only ones the public gets to hear. It is significant that she and Jeremy have had a positive and friendly office association, particularly since Jeremy is gay himself and in a long-term relationship that may be heading toward marriage. (His boyfriend Brett, played by Tom Giordano, shows up on a couple of occasions, though he mostly serves as a mouthpiece for the complaints aimed at Patricia). 

The potential is there for a very interesting play that could allow for an airing of reasoned views on both the right and left.  What happens to "moderation" when neither side is willing to budge on issues they both feel strongly about?  

But if Patricia feels bullied by her talk show colleagues, as she says, then let us have scenes that depict this. If her professional behavior has been affected by events in her personal life, as Jeremy suggests, then let us see some of that.  And if we are going to be able to judge for ourselves whether her on-air remarks were, indeed, beyond the pale, then let us see it, not just hear about it.  

This is the basic problem with The God Gaffe. The playwright fails to heed one of the basic tenets of the profession: Show, don’t tell. With such an interesting concept to work with, here’s hoping he will go back to the drawing board and start to flesh out his ideas for a future production. 

Feel free to share this blog with your friends, and to share your own theater stories by posting a comment.

No comments:

Post a Comment