It is December 2009. The American Empire’s disastrous ‘war on terror’ continues to fuel new terrorist attacks and in the name of ‘homeland security’. The US itself is now under effective martial law.
However, a shiny new president has enabled the ruling elite to give themselves a makeover. Former president George W Bush, now a national embarrassment and facing the ever-present reality of being charged with war crimes, is kept safely out of sight and out of mind.
Yet it is the state of what’s left of Bush’s own mind that is at the heart of this play by veteran American radical playwright Donald Freed.
Set on a top secret elite psychiatric clinic in South Florida, the most powerful man in the world is here reduced to a broken, pitiful wreck, ‘Patient Number One’.
A liberal doctor, initially horrified at the zombie-like state of the former President, soon enjoys his opportunity to bait Bush.
The inherent opportunities for making humour out of this situation are taken mercilessly by Freed. Overall, the encounter between Bush and his cynical doctor makes for an intense and atmospheric piece of theatre.
Patient Number One stands as a lament over the current state of US politics by someone who clearly cares passionately about the fate of that country, and who wants to do more than simply name the guilty men (and women – there is a newsflash informing us that Condoleezza Rice is to stand trial at the International Criminal Court).
Yet while Freed’s play does succeed in raising more fundamental questions about US society, at times the play’s power seemed to get somewhat sadly ‘lost in translation’ on the British stage.
It is to be hoped that this brave play gets produced in the US, where many of its cultural references and metaphors around Christian fundamentalism would have more meaning.
That said, the play’s representation of Bush offer a quite terrifying glimpse into the dark soul of the American ruling class – and made for a finale which succeeded in leaving the audience in a state of shock, if not quite awe.
Patient Number One runs at the York Theatre Royal until 17 May. For tickets go to » www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk
To read Socialist Worker’s recent interview with Donald Freed, go to » The cathartic power of political theatre
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