UNSCRIPTED ‌ Dead Presidents 

Footlight Theatre kicks it up a notch

How can a play with a title like I'm Gonna Kill the President open in Charleston and not generate a single word of objection, not one peep of protest, not so much as a whimper of right-wing indignation? What the hell's happening to this town? First Brokeback Mountain opens here without protests, bomb threats, or warnings of the Apocalypse being nigh, and now this?

Only last January, the innocuously-named NBC series The Book of Daniel had Christian types howling into phones across the city when it premiered and local news outlets tripping over each other to cover the outcry. I was even tapped by Channel 2 to participate in a live viewing and on-air talkback session.

But not one local news affiliate thought to snap up the pre-packaged story of I'm Gonna Kill the President during its Nov. 2-11 run in the frenzied lead-up to the elections, despite it having such camera-friendly trappings as clandestine meetings on the street, actors in black ski masks, and a title whose mere utterance can get you frog-marched into a federal penitentiary.

Maybe, in retrospect, the missing hullaballoo was itself a political barometer, subtly signifying the collective leftward shift the country was about to take in the following week's midterm elections; maybe everybody who heard the play's name stopped for a moment and thought, Hmm, now there's an idea with merit. Or, alternatively, maybe it was a calculated move by local Red Staters, worried that any press would be, for the play and its producers, good press. Who knows.

Regardless, the lack of torch and pitchfork waving over the play apparently didn't dim its reception. By now most everybody at all familiar with the "underground" production knows that it was actually the work of — gasp! — the Footlight Players, the most venerable, and probably the most conservative, theatre company in town. The night I saw the play, there were about 30 people in the audience at the Queen Street theatre for the 10:30 p.m. start, which is more than might have been expected on a Friday night following the molasses-paced Rebecca. But Footlight reports that they more than made back their investment over the course of the run — and had audiences numbering in the 70s for the show's final performances the weekend of Nov. 10. (Granted, they were all gloating Democrats, but still.) There's also a rumor going 'round that the show may find its way back to the Footlight stage at some point (Piccolo, anyone?).

The bigger return for Footlight, though, was not an accounting one but in the image department. IGKTP was unofficially part of the 75-year-old company's new "Salt and Battery" series — edgier fare produced in concert with the main season, intended to reach beyond Footlight's graying (and expiring) population of season subscribers and into a new, younger membership for the theatre. Almost every person who went to see IGKTP was either a) not a Footlight member, b) under the age of 60, or c) both — though these days "b" sort of guarantees "a" over there. The upshot: you gotta give 'em props for taking the risk. The fallout could have been grievous (especially with different election results). As it is, it looks like Footlight was simply one step ahead of the rest of us. Next up in the series: David Mamet's Romance. Hey, if anarchy appeals to a younger audience, just think what a few dozen well-placed F-bombs will do.


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