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The Commons
Photo 1

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Corrine Elisabeth, left, and Colin Grube rehearse a scene from “Trump's Fifth Avenue: A Political Fantasia” by Joshua Moyse.

The Arts

The play's the thing

Josh Moyse's 'Trump's Fifth Avenue' uses the president's own words to reveal his character

Performances are 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, July 14 and 15, and July 21 and 22, at the Hooker-Dunham Theater & Gallery, at 139 Main St. in Brattleboro. General admission is $12 ($10 for Brattleboro Museum & Art Center members). Reservations can be made in advance by calling 802-254-9276. More information is available at www.hookerdunham.org.

Originally published in The Commons issue #416 (Wednesday, July 12, 2017). This story appeared on page C2.



BRATTLEBORO—Joshua Moyse, artistic director of the Shoot the Moon Theater Company, is presenting a brand new staged production, Trump’s Fifth Avenue: A Political Fantasia.

Although in the past Moyse has written or adapted original works presented by his resident company at Hooker-Dunham Theater and Gallery, this one he didn’t write.

In an odd way, no one did.

Trump’s Fifth Avenue is an original theater piece made up of Trump’s speeches and his tweets, as well as writings of his supporters,” Moyse says. “There also is a short bit from a speech by Pope Francis when he was stalked by Trump supporters. This show has no plot, and nothing linear happens. It merely presents a set of ideas by and about Trump.”

Moyse sees the work as closer to music than literature or traditional plays.

“It made sense to structure the piece like a musical score, with recurring motifs that evoke those emotions, rather than a narrative structure with a beginning, middle, and end,” Moyse says.

For two weekends, beginning Friday, July 14, Shoot the Moon Theater Company continues its 2017 season at the Hooker-Dunham Theater with Trump’s Fifth Avenue.

The cast is made up of Elias Burgess, Terry Carter, Corrine Elisabeth, Josh Goldstein, Colin Grube, Jon Mack, and Xoe Perra. Michel Moyse provides video projections and Alistair Follansbee stage manages.

Since Shoot the Moon’s Trump’s Fifth Avenue is derived from the actual words of Donald Trump, director Moyse has conceived an impressionistic look into the culture of the iconic Manhattan avenue.

His thesis is that Trump himself is a product of Fifth Avenue, capitalism, and American consumerism.

“Central to my thinking was Trump’s infamous statement, ‘I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay, it’s like incredible,’” Moyse explains.

Stronghold of capitalism

He finds it significant that, in this assertion, the street Trump chose in New York was not Madison Avenue or Broadway but Fifth Avenue, a major flagship of consumerism.

“Of course, Trump Tower is located on Fifth Avenue,” Moyse says. “But since Trump Tower itself has come to represent elitism and conspicuous consumption, Trump making his home there adds rather than minimizes the potency of the location.”

Moyse contends that Fifth Avenue between 46th and 59th Streets is the wealthiest strip of real estate in Manhattan, if not the world. He also finds it significant that Fifth Avenue is the dividing line between east and west in Manhattan, as Trump himself will exploit the line between the rich and the poor.

“Beginning at Washington Square Arch, which was erected to commemorate President Washington’s inaugural, a tour of Fifth Avenue passes through a series of American flagships of consumerism like Gucci and Saks, as well as famous landmarks like the Plaza Hotel, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the Empire State Building that dot the street with the world’s most expensive real estate, including Trump Tower,” Moyse says.

Believing that Fifth Avenue is a showplace of wealth, as flashy as one its most celebrated shops — Tiffany’s — Moyse, in Trump’s Fifth Avenue, makes the connection that from this setting Trump establishes his political views as an autocratic leader.

“I really believe the world has changed with the election of Trump,” Moyse says. “For instance, you now can be hearing some progressive claiming we need to go backwards in the agenda of social reform to be in step with the times.”

While many people are troubled by Trump because they believe his election victory shows what can go wrong in a democracy, Moyse believes that Trump’s rise to prominence is contingent on something endemic in the American psyche: the love of wealth and power.

“I lived in New York in the 1980s and ’90s, and I saw the city changing with the infusion of money,” he explains. “I took the train everyday from Brooklyn with a lot of those businessmen who believe in the church of power and money. And why not believe? The pursuit of money over everything has long been encouraged in our culture. Donald Trump’s is the natural politics for the society we have created.”

Avoiding politics

In Trump’s Fifth Avenue, Moyse deliberately stays away from any discussion of Trump’s policies.

“Many of those views have strong support within the mainstream political world,” he says. “Here I am more concerned with Trump’s articulation of his ideas and the significance of his way of expressing himself.”

Moyse looked at hundreds of pages of speeches and interviews.

He found that in prepared speeches Trump shows a remarkable amount of discipline.

“He certainly knows how to get across his five or seven things to get his audience to cheer,” Moyse says. “Of course, immigration is always key with Trump. Remember he was the original birther. His attacks on Obama’s right to be president being born outside the U.S. are his original political claim to fame.”

Seven different actors play Donald Trump.

“I wanted to emphasize what I perceive as the ‘not-there there’ of Trump, so multiple people will reflect the shifting images of the president,” Moyse says. “Sometimes more than one Trump will be onstage at the same time. We even will have a Greek Chorus of Donald Trumps, all wearing party masks, and dressed in his iconic white shirt and red tie. The effect is kind of eerie.”

Moyse acknowledges that the show is more openly political than previous works, but notes that his studies at New York University included political science as his major area of study along with theater.

He also says he has been inspired by the increased awareness in the aftermath of the election that he has witnessed among the younger people he works with at Shoot the Moon and teaches at the Windham Regional Career Center and Landmark College.

“I usually don’t want to make a frontal assault on an issue, but I am hoping this piece will mobilize people to do what they need to make a change in the world,” Moyse says in a news release. “That doesn’t necessarily mean going out and campaigning for politicians. It means looking within and taking action that is right for you and your world.”

An alarm bell

Moyse feels compelled to convince people that the situation is dire.

“I believe theater is a good tool for promoting ideas,” Moyse says. “As a medium, it’s pretty nimble, and is able to respond to current events more quickly than movies can. In theater, we also can do things that journalists or those working in television cannot.”

Moyse says that some of the cast found exploring this material more disheartening than others did. Yet if the truth seems too dismal, Moyse hopes that audiences can see the work as a kind of theater-of-the-absurd that is humorous while at the same time shocking and disquieting.

“As I worked on the show, oddly enough, I found myself talking of it more and more with tropes from horror movies,” Moyse says.

Jon Mack, who manages the Hooker-Dunham schedule in addition to being part of the theater’s company-in-residence, sees this work as a part of the the core mission for performing arts, and a continuation of activities like The Ghost Light Project.

“This isn’t a send-up or SNL satire. Shoot the Moon presents Trump in all his jingoistic glory, simply by speaking his own devastating words,” says Mack, who spent 15 years performing political theater in New York City’s East Village before relocating to Brattleboro.

“So much is at stake in our current political reality. Crucial gains in building an open, democratic, inclusive society that responds to the needs of all its people, rather than the super wealth elite, are being reversed. It’s exciting to present this politically committed work.”

Moyse adds that “you can have already read Trump’s words, but when you hear someone say it out loud you begin to come to the conclusion that that’s not human thought in any form. My goal is both to mobilize people and to provide clarity which is desperately needed when confusion is propagated by people in power as an agent of chaos.”

Will anything work?

“Who knows what the future holds with Trump?” Moyse says. “Perhaps this current show should be called Trump’s Fifth Avenue 1.0. Will we be back next season with version 2.5 or 4.3? I don’t know.”

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