I watched the president’s press conference this morning. I’m not a political wonk and so I will leave it to others to dissect the minutiae of what he said, other than to note once again that the only reason Iraq is in the forefront of the war on terrorism is because he made it that way. But what struck me was the president’s demeanor and the way he carried himself, and if I were a student of theatre and stage presence — oh wait, I am! — I’d say that Mr. Bush was not a happy person.
He seemed bored, frustrated, and he repeated his lines as if he was tired of saying them over and over again. He appeared to be defensive without being provoked, even handling the part about showing compassion for the poor and the destitute as if it was somehow a tough thing for him to own up to acknowledging that there was a problem. More than once I thought of one of Bob Newhart’s old routines, even down to the stammer and the REM.
I suppose this was inevitable. Things have not been going well (see below), the second terms of most presidents are legendary for being less than spectacular, and Mr. Bush is not known for having a long attention span. As much as he says he has a lot to accomplish and wants to do a lot of things, it seems like he’s hit the cruise control and would really rather be doing something else.
One of the hardest things in theatre is keeping a performance fresh. On opening night you can feel the electricity in the air and the actors are really connecting with the audience; we call it “the magic.” The challenge is to keep that magic going for a long run; some shows do it by changing the cast every so often, or working new bits and pieces in while still maintaining the original intention of the playwright. But some shows just go on for so long that no matter what the actors try, the audience can sense that all they’re seeing is a bunch of people in costumes and makeup in front of scenery and under harsh lights going through a routine that they have done a hundred times before.
Even the most charitable critic would say that the magic is waning in this performance. Unfortunately, nobody can walk out on this production of No Exit.