Monday, March 8, 2010

Conan McCarty On Becoming George W. Bush

Icarus Continued...

Not really interested in doing an imitation of Dubya for this show; though I would like very much to have speech patterns and a couple of well known gestures to give a little extra weight to certain moments in the play. So I went to the Museum of Television and Radio here in New York and watched many speeches and press conferences; paying special attention to those speeches that marked turning points in Dubya’s foreign policy. With the hindsight of history, some of these speeches were fascinating. He first verbalized the policy of Preemption (“If we wait for threats to fully materialize we will have waited too long.”) and paved the way for the Iraqi invasion in the commencement speech at West Point on June 1, 2002. In November 2003 he announced a new policy of establishing Democracy in the Middle East at the National Endowment for Democracy, and in his second Inaugural Address on January 20, 2005 he spoke of ending tyranny in our world. His body language is exceptionally eloquent in these speeches.

Then I turned to the professional impressionists, because these guys are much better than me at finding tell-tale Bush-isms to feature. I speak of Steve Bridges, Will Ferrell, Frank Caliendo, and even Josh Brolin. Thoroughly enjoyed this part of my research. Steve Bridges has a particularly funny clip on YouTube in which he appears with Dubya at an event and basically plays what the President is REALLY thinking.

As for his personal motivation, justification, id, what have you; I struck oil when I listened to Oliver Stone’s director commentary of his film, W, which is not a bad film at all, but I think Mr. Stone rushed it out a little too quickly for the 2008 election, and it wasn’t entirely formed as to what it was trying to say. Stone mentioned The Bush Tragedy by Jacob Weisberg enough times that I had to pick it up, and it knocked my socks off. Dubya has said many times that he is his mother’s son in temperament. Mr. Weisberg points to the Walker family, his father’s mother’s family; specifically the patriarch, Herbert Walker, source of both President Bush’s middle names. Weisberg feels that impatient, impulsive Dubya we see far too often comes from those genes: “the Walker ethic of masculine risk-taking, conquest, and domination….. Bert (Herbert Walker) was rowdy, profane, and generally obnoxious. Even an approved family history describes him as ‘coarse…..’ The current owners of a ten-thousand acre hunting lodge have preserved the bullet holes left in the dining room ceiling when Bert fired at a wasp that stung him… Many of George W. Bush’s most distinctive traits don’t seem to come from his mother or his father. He is impatient, aggressive, often angry, and sometimes cruel. He’s a plunger, not a careful analyst or a patient builder. He loves to compete but can’t stand losing. The man’s a Walker, through and through.”

Weisberg made another comment that gave me pause. Can’t locate it as I thumb through my copy now, and besides, the best director Oscar is about to be announced, but the gist of it is that there is nothing out of the ordinary about Dubya’s Oedipal struggle with his father. What is extraordinary is that he chose to wage it on the world stage. This calls for serious psychoanalysis, so I picked up Bush on the Couch by Dr. Justin A. Frank, noted Washington, D.C. psychoanalyst. This is packed with all kinds of good stuff. Indulge me while I quote from the introduction: “If one of my patients… presented an inflexible worldview characterized by an oversimplified distinction between right and wrong, good and evil, allies and enemies, I would question his ability to grasp reality…. I have observed with increasing alarm the inconsistencies and denials of such an individual. But he is not one of my patients. He is our president.” Both these guys said things that made certain passages of Woodward’s books I mentioned in the last entry reverberate with resonance.

Lastly, a grounding place, a touchstone for the role to which I will always return: some kind of archetype character. Weisberg makes a compelling argument that he is a very dark Prince Hal from Shakespeare’s HENRY IV, PARTS ONE and TWO, and HENRY V: ‘Be it thy course to busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels; that action, hence borne out, may waste the memory of the former days.’ Could he be the Prodigal Son? Or maybe a Warrior King, saving the world from Evil and achieving World Peace? Perhaps Yosemite Sam? Some of each of these strike me as right. But I like Icarus, who wanted to exceed his father and flew beyond his reach.

- Conan McCarty

Read past entries of the Icarus Chronicles: Parts I & II, Part III, Part IV

Find out more about InterAct's World Premiere of Lee Blessing's WHEN WE GO UPON THE SEA

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