In a pointed assessment of the political leanings of the theater, playwright Richard Greenberg once said, "There's no such thing as Waiting for Righty!" With the Republican National Convention about to descend on New York, the city's theater companies are presenting plenty of musicals, stand up comedy, drama, and even burlesque in response to the event. As was the case when Clifford Odets's Waiting for Lefty debuted at Broadway's Longacre Theatre, the New York arts scene remains the home turf of the American Left. This is evidenced by the plays and festivals listed below:

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One Year Lease's Antigone
(Photo © John Demos)
One Year Lease's Antigone
(Photo © John Demos)
The UnConvention

The participating companies of The UnConvention have found a venue that some might describe as a prime location: the Abingdon Theater, sandwiched between the Free Speech Zone at 38th Street and the Exclusionary Zone at 34th Street. From August 27 to September 11, six "delegates" -- downtown theater companies from an emerging Off-Off-Broadway organization known as the Community Dish -- will oversee nearly 20 events taking place next door in Madison Square Garden.

Zachary Mannheimer, producer and director of the Subjective Theater Company, plans to flyer his show at some of the protests. You can't really call it niche marketing, because all tickets for his company's productions are free; Mannheimer wants to pull people away from anti-Republican demonstrations because he believes that theater may be a more effective venue for public dissent. "You can't have civic dialogue in a million-person march," he says, "but you can have it in a 60-person black box." His company will present The White Plague, a dark satire written by Czech playwright Karel Capek in the shadow of World War II. The play is about a peacenik who holds the cure to a deadly epidemic and will only reveal the formula when world leaders declare a truce.

Also: Stages 5150 premieres Randy Anderson's KtP, whose title is an acronym that would constitute a federal offense if uttered. The Management Co. adapts a work by Bertolt Brecht in This Jungle of Cities. The Kiva Theatre Company weaves its interviews of soldiers fighting in the current Iraq War and their families back home in a piece titled Entrenched in an Oath. Stone Soup Arts presents Elie Wiesel's The Trial of God, in which a defendant is charged with apathy for watching a lost city fall to a pogrom; and One Year Lease revives the Jean Anouilh adaptation of Antigone that casts an authoritarian King Creon in the spotlight. Special events include the presentation of a play by Wallace Shawn and a performance by Bread and Puppet. A full schedule for the UnConvention can be accessed by clicking here.

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Brian Dykstra
(Photo © Gary Smoot)
Brian Dykstra
(Photo © Gary Smoot)
Brian Dykstra: Cornered and Alone

Brian Dykstra recently found himself listed on a Rush Limbaugh-affiliated website as an "enemy" of the conservative talk radio host. This seemed strange to Dykstra because there was no indication that Limbaugh or any of his self-styled "Dittoheads" had attended the Brian Dykstra: Cornered and Alone. As it turned out, a media watchdog group called TimesWatch.com had used The New York Times's glowing review of this one-man show as evidence of the paper's bias, and Rush's cohorts used that secondhand report to mark the performer as an adversary.

During an interview for this article, Dykstra plotted an interesting course of revenge: "I'm thinking about pulling the New York Times quote and attributing it to TimesWatch, because they reprinted it. We could say that TimesWatch finds the show 'exhilarating!'" Dykstra may have alienated thousands of conservative talk radio enthusiasts across the nation, but that's not why he feels so "Cornered and Alone." For one thing, he's new to the stand-up circuit, and performing solo onstage can be pretty unnerving. He recalls that, when a producer suggested the idea to him, "I first thought, 'Well, that's just the scariest thing I ever heard of."

Several critical raves (and a few slams) later, Dykstra has settled into his act, and the thing that most upsets him now is the current political climate. His animus isn't only against Bush: "John Kerry is a moderate Democrat," Dykstra comments, "and I'm so far to the left of him that there's nobody out there that says what I believe." That's what made him choose to present his show during the RNC, although he wishes that he and like-minded people could express their frustration in another way: "I think the perfect protest would be if everybody left the city," he says. "Make it a ghost town! But that's not going to happen; people have got to work." Dykstra will be performing his show every Tuesday and Thursday of the Convention; it's slated to close on September 25.

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Heather Grayson in After the Storm
(Photo © Richard Termine)
Heather Grayson in After the Storm
(Photo © Richard Termine)
After the Storm

"Gosh, I feel so old saying this: There was no such thing as women in combat when I went to Iraq for the Gulf War," says Heather Grayson. In the age of Private Jessica Lynch, the idea of a female combatant can definitely capture the public imagination. It's hard to imagine that, little over 10 years ago, the concept was unheard of.

Grayson didn't plan to blaze any trails when she signed up for military service. "I did it for money," she states frankly. "I wanted to go to Vanderbilt University, and the only full-ride scholarship I got was the ROTC scholarship." When the army told her unit, stationed in Germany, that they would be transferred to Iraq and Kuwait, Grayson felt more distraught about leaving her fiancée than about the war itself. She remembered being proud of her service after witnessing the Baathist army pull out of Kuwait.

"The second Iraq War is a different story entirely," says Grayson, "and I'm glad I'm not there." She's bringing her one-woman show to the Imagine Festival in solidarity with the hundreds of other events responding to the RNC. After the Storm is an autobiographical account of her experiences in the Gulf, and it focuses on an ammunitions accident that occurred under her command; at the time, the accident was the largest of its kind since Vietnam, and it led to a series of interrogations.

Grayson says that After the Storm is a coming of age story rather than a political statement, but this hasn't stopped audiences from interpreting it to suit their particular leanings. Certain soldiers have felt that the piece is pro-army, while some Floridians perceived in it an anti-military viewpoint. Ultimately, the most political aspect of the show is the company it keeps, since the Imagine Festival will feature such outspoken performer-activists as Margaret Cho and Lewis Black. As for Grayson, she plans to attend some demonstrations during the RNC; "I have plenty of friends who are planning to protest," she tells me, "and I really want to be heard."

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Whose Country Is It, Anyway?

A reading of a portion of Tony Kushner's Only We Who Guard the Mystery Shall Be Unhappy turned into a high profile fundraiser for MoveOn.org, that irrepressible voice of online leftist activism. The play's protagonist is none other than First Lady Laura Bush; the August 2 benefit event featured John Cameron Mitchell of Hedwig and the Angry Inch fame, performing in drag once again as he took on the role. Mitchell will not be performing in the Ensemble Studio Theater production of the full Kushner play, to be presented during EST's counter-Convention festival, but it should be a hot ticket nonetheless.

It's just one of the highlights of the Whose Country Is It, Anyway? festival, which is currently underway. Others include Godlight Theatre Company's adaptation of Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange and a "Creative Disobedience Cabaret" starring M.C. Keith, who played "Wild Child" Middleton in Off-Broadway's Stomp. Having begun on August 24, the festival runs for nine consecutive nights with a series of plays, live music, dance, comedy, cabaret, and poetry, ending well into the RNC on September 1. Click here for a full schedule.

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The cast of Burlesque Exposes Bush
(Photo © Miranda Smith)
The cast of Burlesque Exposes Bush
(Photo © Miranda Smith)
Full Frontal Activism: Or Political Pasties

If you want to vent both your political and sexual frustrations in conjunction with the Republican National Convention, you have a number of options. This weekend, musical buffs looking for t&a (and everything in between) can check out Burlesque Exposes Bush; or, How Dubya Got Kerry'd Away. The musical comedy draws inspiration from a form of mid-19th century burlesque that skewered political leaders via parodies of classic stories. Here, President Bush will be satirized with a twist on the story of Noah and the flood.

Dirty-minded people everywhere know that burlesque is burgeoning once again at a rate unprecedented since the Reconstruction. Many of the stars of this blossoming movement -- including Dirty Martini and the Dazzle Dancers --- will come together in Live Patriot Acts -- Patriots Gone Wiiiild!. Murray Hill, a drag performer familiar to the circuit, will host this assortment of acts. Spectators can get in on the action by wetting their t-shirts or competing in a naked lunchmeat-tossing contest, and there will be heavy discounts for theatergoers in red, white, and blue swimwear.

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French philosopher and playwright Jean-Paul Sartre had a love-hate relationship with political theater. In an interview with the famed British theater critic Kenneth Tynan, he said, "I don't think theater can be directly derived from political events." Still, several of Sartre's plays explored sensitive political issues of his day, including one called The Respectful Prostitute, which excoriated American racism at a time when our country's civil rights movement was budding. In any event, Sartre believed that the theater would always lean toward the left of the political spectrum because, "although the Right may still be in control of events...it has lost the ability to understand them." Whatever the reasons for the theater's special relationship with leftist activism, the Republican National Convention has given progressives everywhere plenty of options for political entertainment.