Theatre review: The satirical poignancy of Dear Donald/Dear Hillary (Their Secret Correspondence)- wins Bronze Standard Bank Ovation Award at The National Arts Festival, South Africa, 2021
|What: Dear Donald/Dear Hillary (Their Secret Correspondence) – VOD at The National Arts Festival, South Africa– until August 31, 2021 Performers: Sally Vahle (Hillary) and Bob Hess (Donald) Writer: Elaine Liner Direct booking link: https://nationalartsfestival.co.za/show/dear-donald-dear-hillary-their-secret-correspondence/ Duration: 60 minutes Tickets: R50|
Imagine if Hilary Rodham Clinton and Donald Trump had connected as pen-pals, when they were at school. Would it has mattered if Donald had Hilary in his orbit- inviting him to reflect – on everything – his world view, attitude to women, morality? Would it have made a difference? Plot spoiler alert: In Elaine Liner’s smart, acerbic and heightened satirical play; the answer is “no”. If Donald had a Hilary looking over his shoulder, it probably would not have mattered. He was a rich, white, entitled American boy. He was an unstoppable brand. Nothing was going to stand in his way. Dear Donald/Dear Hillary (Their Secret Correspondence) stars Sally Vahle as Hillary and Bob Hess as Donald and has received a Bronze Standard Bank Ovation Award at The National Arts Festival, South Africa, 2021. It is available for viewing until August 31, 2021 at the NAF.
Dear Donald/Dear Hillary (Their Secret Correspondence is a new play from the USA, filmed as a “digital play”, for online viewing. The pandemic has shattered live performance. At the moment in South Africa, August 2021, with fifty people allowed in a venue; we are unlikely to see new plays, from out of Africa. It is unlikely to that we will see new plays from the international stage, for a long time. Producers are unable to plan with the uncertainty and possibility of further lockdowns. It was a surprise and delight for me to encounter this play on the Fringe at the NAF. Most of the works at NAF 2021 has been created by South African artists and the gaze has tended to be on South Africa and the African continent. Much of the work has been wrapped around grief and a sense of being baffled by the current context- the pandemic, poverty, civil unrest; worries about the future; GBV [gender based violence], civil unease etc. Then I saw, that an “American play” is tucked in at the Fringe and I went “wow- that is something different – a play about Hilary and Donald. How cool”. It is a fabulous play – acerbic and very poignant. It also has grief at its centre – American grief- one might say. The protagonist, Hilary is utterly flummoxed at how things have panned out. Her dream was to be the American President and in this play, we get her sense of grief and bafflement. The ticket price is R50. Do the Math – try and catch a new play in the USA or UK and you will pay a lot more than R50. It is brilliant that South Africans can have access to an excellent play with two acclaimed American stage actor: Sally Vahle and Bob Hess. They transform in front us from Alpha 2nd graders to two political opponents. In many ways, Hilary and Donald have become caricatures. Donald – big yellow hair; Hilary in her pantsuits. The actors bring tremendous pathos to the characters- not easy to do on screen – a filmed recording of a staging. We see them interacting in their spaces – at their desks – in their offices of power -and see their transition from 2nd graders and how their images shift. Masterful stage craft, coupled with the fire cracker dialogue. The play is doing the rounds of online festivals and we are lucky to have access, in South Africa and able to pay with our currency. The video-on-demand is not geo-locked. It may be accessed from anywhere.
In the play, Elaine Liner kicks off with Hilary and Donald as 2nd graders, engaging in a pen-pal correspondence. He is 8. She is 7- because she quips- she has been “accelerated”. This play is fiction. There was not a pen-pal correspondence between the two. Liner has woven in, with some artistic license, scenes from the real biographies of Hilary and Donald. Their lives are put up, side by side; with the collision of political and personal (ouch –Bill Clinton- we all remember- and Hilary cringes and flinches – palpably – in this play). There are references to actual events and a wry meta-commentary which runs in tandem with their political paths. Plot spoiler: At one point, in their correspondence, Hilary enthuses about the new method of communication – e-mail. She declares that “it lacks personality and permanence- it just disasters: Donald: “Uhhm –does it?” So, obviously, that dialogue is Liner’s but in the play, it is utterly credible.
Dear Donald/Dear Hillary (Their Secret Correspondence) holds up a mirror to real people and urges us to engage, now, in pandemic times. We laugh but truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. The Trump presidency sounds like a fiction but it happened. In the play, the character, Donald smirks that he is running for President, as a lark. He was doing it as a joke (or words to that effect) and he was – until he wasn’t. The ‘real’ Donald Trump is on record for saying that. That is chilling and terrifying to contemplate. Dear Donald/Dear Hillary (Their Secret Correspondence) ,is thrilling theatre – riffing off “the real” – transfiguring the ‘real’ into art.