Reviewed by Michael Landes
As Laura Bush explains in the third act of the play, the title “comes from the Family Guy…It’s a costume party and the man in the couple is dressed in a pink dress and pearls and the visitor asks, Who are you dressed as Peter? and Peter says, I’m Laura Bush. Then the woman, who I believe is his wife, and is dressed as a man with a big tire track up her front, says, And I’m the guy she killed. And the visitor says, That’s right, I forgot, Laura Bush killed a guy. And the wife says, Yes, she did. Laura Bush killed a guy. And then Peter says, Laura Bush killed a guy…” But the crux of the play is not really the titular event of Laura Bush’s vehicular homicide (as later explained, vehicular manslaughter was not a crime in Texas when her crash occurred). Really, the show revolves around her experience of both coming of age in Texas and being the most visible woman in the country.
The three-act show begins each act with a monologue about Google’s autofill suggestions when one enters “Laura Bush”. Laura Bush’s Cowboy Cookies (available upon entering the theater) are first, but soon after follows “Laura Bush killed a guy”. This monologue varies slightly between acts, and the reenactment of the car crash which follows similarly varies. In the first act, she is a murderer; the second, a drunk driver; the third, a well-meaning, distracted teenager. Other details of her life also change between acts, such as her first time meeting “Georgie”, her relationship to Mike Douglass (the crash victim), and her behavior as a teenager. What does remain consistent is her veneer of optimism, polished “Southern hospitality”, and her seemingly genuine good intentions. Even the murder was done to please her family.
A solo show requires a great solo performer, and Lisa Hodsoll is above and beyond the best Laura Bush impersonator on New York stages right now (regardless of how much competition she may or may not have). Her measured control of her body and gestures, her perfectly soft Texan accent, all spoke to her ability as someone who had researched, studied and now fully inhabited Laura Bush. Her performance stood out as an accomplishment that alone makes the play worth seeing.
The play itself, on the other hand, lacks an essential energy; like Laura Bush’s car, it achieves high speeds on the ground, but never launches off the ground. Laura Bush’s carefully cultivated facade seems poised to fall from her first moments onstage, but the show never delivers on this promise. Instead, potential energy is built up and never released. The de facto climax of the show is her recounting of 9/11 which, though it is a powerful and effective piece of writing, does not quite deliver the catharsis and freedom that the show needs. For example, Ms. Hodsoll’s choreography rarely took her outside of standing in front of or sitting in the lone chair on stage (her back never touching the back of the chair). Like the extremely limited blocking, and in part because of it, the play remained similarly uptight and staid.
Despite the lack of a much-needed release in the show, there remained a great deal to be praised. Ian Allen’s text for Laura Bush maintained a wonderful balance of lyricism and realism (the prologue, which features a complete appropriation of her recipe for cowboy cookies, is especially exciting), and the technical direction, with projections and spots indicating flashbacks to the actual car crash, was highly professional and effective. But though each element was as skillfully assembled as possible, the overall work was no greater than the sum of its parts. The high quality of each part almost saves the play, but not quite.
Why did Laura Bush kill a guy? The play offers many answers, but does not quite provide a reason to ask the question in the first place. Many do their best to provide such a reason throughout “Laura Bush Killed A Guy”––Ms. Hodsoll perhaps most of all with her bogglingly impressive impersonation. But this effort makes the play’s inability to take flight all the more regrettable. At the end of the day, Laura Bush killed a guy. No more, no less.
“Laura Bush Killed A Guy” plays at The Flea Theater at 20 Thomas St. through July 8th. http://theflea.org/shows/laura-bush-killed-a-guy/