The Southeastern premiere of A New War, presented Dec. 1-18 by Burning Coal Theatre Company in the Kennedy Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts in Raleigh, NC, is a timely topical satire that mercilessly savages President Bush and his appointees and apologists, as well as the credulous anchormen and women and on-the-scene reporters of this nation’s broadcast-television-news and cable-news networks, which both employ sundry “experts” with dubious credentials to provide instant analysis on breaking news stories.
When CNN dubbed the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan “America’s New War,” Boston playwright Gip Hoppe had the perfect title for this biting 2003 satire of the outrageous on-camera misbehavior of politicians and the news media whenever is a national crisis is brewing. The “New War” breathlessly announced by two cable news anchors (played by Robin Dorff and Serena Ebhardt) as the curtain rises is a no-holds-barred preemptive strike against an unspecified enemy at undisclosed locations. The U.S. President does not hesitate to employ this country’s latest-and-greatest Weapons of Mass Destruction to neutralize this threat to Homeland Security.
While the cable newscasters scramble to identify the unnamed enemy and to pinpoint the exact targets of the awesome national arsenal unleashed to neutralize the threat, they interrupt their on-air speculations with official government announcements, the latest updates from their reporters in the field, and interviews with the President, members of his administration, and a motley assortment of experts.
Serena Ebhardt and Robin Dorff are hilarious as a pair of blow-dried, overdressed, red-white-and-blue cable TV news anchors who cannot abandon their basic happy-talk format even when “Scrotum-Scaper” stealth missiles are surprising, obliterating, and then cremating an overmatched enemy somewhere around the globe. The newscasters’ names may change from scene to scene — even from moment to moment — but Dorff and Ebhardt epitomize all the gullible journalists whom politicians and other special interests shamelessly manipulate in order to get favorable headlines.
Martin Thompson and Quinn Hawkesworth play all the other characters on both sides of the TV camera. Thompson is a scream as supremely arrogant retired General Buck Hesston, slippery Secretary of Defense Mike Halliburton, super-secret and super-scary Director of Fatherland Security Warren Thompson, and eight other assorted nuts. Hawkesworth is a hoot as the tangle-tongued President of the United States, ultra-patriotic and pro-war country singer Billy Bob Braggart, fanatically religious National Security Advisor Catalina Kopay, and seven other colorful characters.
To provide too many details would spoil the fun, but suffice it to say that Boston director Brendan Hughes brilliantly stages all the laugh-out-loud moments from Gip Hoppe’s scathing script, while four of the Triangle’s finest actors have a field day playing an antic array of flamboyant, but all-too-true-to-life characters. A New War is a must-see satire, and scenic designer Sandra Goldmark’s striking broadcast-studio set and the vivid wardrobe created by costume designer Vanessa Streeter only make a good thing better.
Burning Coal Theatre Company presents A New War Wednesday-Saturday, Dec. 7-10 and 14-17, at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 11 and 18, at 2 p.m. in the Kennedy Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $16 ($14 students, seniors 65+, and active-duty military personnel), except $10 Wednesday evenings. 919/834-4001 or via the presenter's site. Burning Coal Theatre Company: http://www.burningcoal.org/. Brendan Hughes: http://www.brendanhughes.com/ [inactive 2/06].