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"The Resistible Rise of JR Brinkley"
Written and Directed by Edward Einhorn
Produced by Untitled Theater Company No. 61
Reviewed by Larry Littany Litt on Oct. 18, 2018
It's all too easy in the Trump era to unleash barbs at the darned dangerous President and his supporters. Much more difficult to write something new and different as Edward Einhorn has done. Taking an imagined biography of a real con man demagogue who lived in the early 20th century, Einhorn has created a show that gave me a very good conception of where the Trumpster came from and how he managed to stay in power.
"Give the people what they need to make them feel better or important, they'll do whatever you want" is the motto of JR Brinkley, a snake oil huckster and medical fraud. Brinkley, played by banjo playing, smooth talking Trav SD, is a man with a mission to be rich, loved and famous. Isn't that what every scoundrel really wants? His rags to riches to rags story is the core of this lively entertaining musical cabaret.
Some amazing musicians are featured in this satirical country music cabaret. Walking into the Martha Graham studio in Westbeth I was greeted by the fiddle tunes of existentially perky master violinist Julia Hoffman. The audience was foot tapping and knee slapping from the first moments. Julia played authentic and variations on traditional country and old time music. This was the music that Brinkley loved and brought to the airwaves on his radio station. Middle America hadn't heard this before on their home radios. His show was an immediate success. There was only one sponsor: Brinkley's Kansas hospital that specialized in goat balls implants to cure impotence. He became a rich and powerful force in the 1930s Midwest.
The country music band put together by director Einhorn makes this a wildly fun show. Craig Anderson plays a long-suffering Midwestern sucker better than a real Midwesterner. John Blaylock is the evening's shit kicking cowboy narrator and silky male vocalist with a twang. Blond, ditzy yet very cunning Jenny Lee Mitchell brings characters and thigh slapping laughs to the cabaret as Brinkley's wife Minnie.
Then there's Trav SD as Brinkley the Great Man himself. Sure fooled me. I thought he was gonna be nutha one of them snake oil salesmen millionaires who made America Great. But no! Trav gives us the link between Brinkley and Trump. Einhorn's song parodies and segues into current politics are brilliantly funny.
I assume the entire cast is talking to the choir. So what's wrong with that? This is what political satire can do well. Go see it before Trump explodes.
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