Review: ‘Transitions,’ a world premiere by John Fisher from Theatre Rhinoceros (*****)

by Charles Kruger

Katie Rubin and John Fisher as Melania and Donald Trump in Theatre Rhinoceros’s world premiere of Fisher’s “Transitions.” Photo Credit: David Wilson.
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

“What’s with Fisher?” was the buzz among the reviewers in the lobby on opening night of “Transitions” at the Gateway Theatre. “He’s directing AND starring in his OWN play! Again!?! Is he crazy?”

Well, I’ll tell you this about Fisher: if he’s crazy, our theatre needs a lot more mad men like this!

Fisher’s double turn as Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin is a wonder to watch; his caricature is uncanny, but he does more than that. In his hands, Trump and Putin have beating human hearts that we can recognize and for which we can feel empathy, even as we recoil in horror.

Especially striking is the portrayal of two marriages: Donald and Melania, Vladimir and Lyudmila. Unexpectedly, each coupling (both played extraordinarily well by Katie Rubin and Fisher) has the ring of authenticity. These are real families, with real feelings,  love, and ambivalence. No performer or writer has done a better job at portraying and satirizing these families, and, in my experience, nobody has done as well.

The premise allows for plenty of laughs and plenty of satire. White House intern Ezekiel (the handsome and talented Morgan Lange), an ambitious young Republican (and closeted gay), is charged with organizing “something cultural” that Melania Trump can sponsor on a trip to Moscow. Feeling a bit mistreated by his superior (played chillingly by KathrynL. Wood), he finds himself at the “National Theatre” in Washington, D.C.

“The National Theatre in Washington D.C.?” — hey wait a minute, the United States doesn’t HAVE a “National Theatre.” What Ezekiel finds is a bar featuring a tongue-in-cheek (ahem) drag show, starring the talented Ruby (an outstanding Charles Peoples III). Seeing an opportunity to stir the governmental pot and get a bit of his own back in White House politics, Ezekiel arranges for Ruby (“The National Theatre”) to go to Moscow with Melenia. He doesn’t count, of course, on falling in love.

There are many comical and horrifying complications, involving a kidnapping, the threat of nuclear holocaust, a puzzled Putin performing with “The National Theatre” in a song and dance routine, and more. All of it providing ample opportunity for Fisher and his team to send up the S.C.R.O.T.U.S. ( So-Called Ruler Of The United States) and his cronies, but with a surprising degree of  compassion and even affection.

It would be a disservice to his excellent work not to mention the performance by Gabriel A. Ross in multiple minor roles. Though not called upon to do much in this production, Ross brings his usual polished technique to the task and helps to keep the show moving smoothly.

“Transitions” is brilliant political satire, not to be missed. Fisher shines as playwright, actor, and director. Catch this before it closes, although one hopes fervently that the run will be extended. Indeed, this one deserves an afterlife in New York. I hope a producer is paying attention!

‘Transitions’ continues at the Gateway Theatre through March 17, 2018. For further information, click here.

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Rating:  *****(for an explanation of Theatrestorm’s rating scale, click here.)

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“Transitions” a world premiere written and directed by John Fisher, produced by Theatre Rhinoceros. Scenic Conception: Sebastian Attardo, John Fisher. Costume Designer: David F.Draper. Lighting and Video Designer: Sean Keehan. Hair/Wigs: Jordan L. Moore.

Cast: 

Himself/Donald Trump/Vladimir Putin: JohnFisher. Melania Trump/Lyudmila Putin: Katie Rubin. Dalanka/Morit: Kathryn Wood. Ezekial: Morgan Lange. Toray/Boris/Doorman/Jayston/Interviewer: Gabriel A. Ross. Charles Peoples III: Ruby.

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