Picture this: it's the year 2009, and Hillary Clinton ( Three's Company's earnest, but slightly uncomfortable Priscilla Barnes) is President of the United States. Forget all of the struggles that you'd like to associate with this inauguration such as the novelty of the first female president, the election of a Democrat during the current middle eastern war climate, or the ties to hubby Bill Clinton. Playwright Nick Salamone does. Instead, he gives Hillary a rather ingenious battle to contend with in Hillary Agonistes : the onset of the Biblical rapture, the event that marks Jesus Christ's collection of all Christians, dead and alive alike, from the earth. In it, all whom Jesus has chosen will be transported to meet Him in the air, and will be transformed into immortal beings. But such an event could not occur without controversy, conjecture, and a slew of opinions that drive Mrs. President absolutely batty. And it doesn't help that Bill, whose counsel she could well use, is among the vanished. The fact that Hillary has to deal with this problem gives her the right to the epithet Agonistes (“the combatant”, derived from the Greek).
Because the Clinton administration could not possibly acquiesce to offering an explanation out of Christian doctrine (religious war implications, destabilizing world markets), many theories are presented as alternatives. Among them are alien abductions, a global stunt communicated through text messages, and even a false rapture propagated by Satan's “conscripts.” All theories are handled deliciously, albeit maniacally, by various colorful male characters, all played by Nick Salamone, ranging from generals to cardinals.
As Hillary, Priscilla Barnes is stern, commanding, and prone to pacing. Although she has not quite settled into a comfort zone with this portrayal, her choices are almost all justified. As Scottish Morag, President Clinton's Chief of Staff, Jean Gilpin is everything one would expect a person of her rank to be: poised, loyal, compelling and, due to her Quaker upbringing, reticent in her own religious beliefs. Nick Salamone is a chameleon, following through with each of his diverse characters as he follows through with the play's plot execution. He is passionate, incensed, and offers the array of opinions that are to be expected should an event of such magnitude transpire. As new convert to Islam, Chelsea, Rebecca Metz is a hippie in a burka, but it's difficult to take her seriously because she sounds remotely like comedienne Kathy Griffin. However, like Kathy Griffin, the character Chelsea is more vocal and opinionated than the real Chelsea has ever been in the media, and it was nice to hear her perspective, even if it was fictional.
Although it is a witty and profound piece, Hillary Agonistes is not without flaws. The acoustics in the Flamboyan theater of the CSV Cultural and Educational Center swallow the voices of the actors whenever they turn their back to the audience, which under Jon Lawrence Rivera's direction, they occasionally do. Although the sound effects by Bob Blackburn that conclude each scene are wonderfully eerie, they do give the production the veneer of a Saturday Night Live political skit. The voice-overs denoting dates and times are too loud, as are the voice-overs belonging to the character that I fondly call “Rapture Woman”, a figure with a concealed face and gas mask in a burka. Rapture Woman herself is problematic, identifying herself as Shiva, the Hindu deity that destroys, and other names linked to destruction. As several other characters in the play are present to dissuade further wars and contention, this clearly Middle-Eastern symbol antagonizes that mission.
With a healthy mixture of absurdism, creativity and reason, Salamone asserts himself as an informed and exciting storyteller and performer. Flaws aside, Hillary Agonistes is still a great production that is not to be missed.