The only checks on the tyrannical majority are a levelheaded chief executive named Garth and a thoughtful woman named Donna, who serves as the entire Supreme Court. When outsiders suddenly appear and set up camp outside the citadel walls, the miniature United States must decide whether to send a diplomat to welcome them, preemptively bomb them, or just hunker down and hope for the best.
A few moments in playwright Brendan Pelsue's otherwise excellent script invite overly melodramatic readings. Lots of Aaron Sorkin–style emphatic use of character names. "What are we doing here, Garth?" "I do, Max." "It is, Garth." Can you imagine if real people spoke to each other like this? "What's for breakfast, Jeff?" "We've been married for five years, Sebastian. You don't have to keep reminding me that you know my name. But since you're asking—eggs."
Overall, however, the scenes are tight, the dialogue is smart, and the story is thrilling. Even when the identity of the barbarians at the gate is revealed, I kept wondering, "WHAT NEXT?!" That doesn't happen very often in Seattle theater.
And though the premise is a tad fussy, I love the way it flips the script on the typical political drama. Instead of beginning with high-powered politicians who fail to live up to their lofty ideals because it turns out they're human beings, Pelsue begins with human beings who must strive to live up to the lofty ideals of an office they've inherited by circumstance.
Remember when Obama said that the most important office in a democracy is "citizen"? Wellesley Girl takes that idea to the extreme, which ends up adding humor and gravity to a tired genre. A lot of the fun derives from the fact that political motivations weave their way into every casual conversation and every seduction. An indicative line from chief executive Garth: "I'm asking you to consider the proposal, Max. I'm telling you I think it's right... And maybe a part of me is saying it because I haven't stopped caring about you."
Though it's impossible not to think about this show or anything else in life—Pepsi, Snoop Dogg, birds—without mentioning the current president, director Bobbin Ramsey says she and Pelsue avoided making any direct reference to the 2016 election in their artistic choices. There's no representative who is Clinton, no representative who is Trump, she said, "because that's not the most important question." The most important question is what will the audience members do following the play?
To drive that point home, the black box inside 18th & Union is constructed to resemble the town hall where congressional meetings happen, so it's as if the audience members are also members of Congress. In certain scenes, actors are scattered among the crowd. Information on Washington democracy vouchers, change of address forms, voter registration forms, and info about possible ballot measures will be available in the lobby following the show.
That's a surprisingly low number of interactive elements for a production from The Horse in Motion. Since its inception in 2014, the company has produced immersive theater heavy on audience participation. Their version of Attempts on Her Life spanned three floors of the University Heights Center, which really gave the audience a workout. Their last big run was Brechtfast, a series of brunch theater performances of Bertolt Brecht plays.
Ultimately, the company wants the audience to walk out of the show asking themselves how they would have voted if they were citizens of that futuristic Massachusetts township. I suppose you could also hope that the desire to vote in a fictional world might awaken a desire to vote in the real one. The August primary election is just around the corner.