Theatre Review: Trinity Street Playhouse’s A Million More to Go

Play examines preposterous political climes with chuckles galore

Kelsey Mazak (left) as V, Natalie D. Garcia as T (photo by Steve Rogers Photography)

In Maricopa County, Arizona, state Senate Republicans took it upon themselves to challenge the 2020 presidential election results. This ushered in a cybersecurity team, the “Cyber Ninjas,” who performed an independent audit. The group allegedly pored over ballots looking for dead voters, false names, and even bamboo fibers, aka proof of election interference from China.

Everything I just wrote actually happened. It was a situation suited to an SNL sketch, but played out in reality. The audit took over two years to fully resolve, resulting in massive fines and bankruptcy for the Cyber Ninjas (who only proved that Biden had won by even more votes than previously tallied). This landscape, this stranger-than-fiction truth, inspired playwright Max Langert with its sheer audacity. In A Million More to Go, he turns electioneering and blind nationalism into pure farce, a satirical look at the lengths people go to in the name of freedom.

“Freedom” is one of the many buzzwords thrown about in Langert’s script, along with “justice,” “truth,” and the all-important “democracy.” He presents a world of literal whistleblowing, through a government-adjacent contingency led by training videos and obtuse manuals and a truth machine named “the Bloodhound.” Called by code names, the group has some hierarchical structure, one that is immediately turned on its head by the arrival of new recruit V (Kelsey Mazak). Ballot counters like R (Jennifer Jennings) and S (Mike Ooi) have been there for at least nine days and run the business of vote-checking under the thumb of blustering manager T (Natalie D. Garcia) and their stoic guard Chuck (Jason Graf, in one of quadruple roles that delight throughout the play). What ensues is a scant 24-ish hours of their mission, marked by learning the ropes, responding to potential threats, and digging into how deeply they commit to a democratic nation.

Absurd times call for absurd measures, and Langert’s script fits the bill.

All are deliciously dim characters, dancing around each other with what they know and what they don’t, pretending at expertise and purpose. Director Will Gibson Douglas places each character for maximum silliness. It’s like a live-action puppet show, Punch and Judy for the modern audience. Actors quirk their heads or stomp around the stage, without holding any wryness back. Jennings and Ooi snap at each other with the familiar fondness of any long-suffering office mates. There’s honest camaraderie there, even as they needle for power and position in the cabal. Graf’s multiple characters show off comedic range. My favorite was Carl, a cigar-chomping macho man chewing scenery with the bravado of Nic Cage in a Michael Bay movie. (And as someone who adores a good Nic Cage, that is nothing but the highest compliment.)

The hilarity amps up with indelible details from Kaitlyn Hartnagel’s props and EnHaus Design’s set. Center, and perhaps most entertaining, was a bulletin board “Wall of Suspicion.” Clipped under the rainbow-sparkled title letters were objects like a Chinese flag, a hand-drawn Illuminati symbol, and a vowel list with no O. The more I looked at the board, the goofier the items became. Of course there was also the aforementioned “Bloodhound,” created by Lisa Ashby, which emitted delicate curls of smoke as it worked to detect the truth. These off-the-wall touches perfectly matched the equally off-the-wall cast performances. There are just enough recognizable aspects to make it believable. But the strangeness is ever-so-slightly plausible enough to make your heart a little sad with the state of the world.

After 2016, I expected an outpouring of art that was angry and defiant, something like Rage Against the Machine. But this style, this tongue-in-cheek winking at a situation just too silly to be believed, is perfect. How do you get angry at clowns? That would just fuel the fires, just amp up surreal responses. What seems to satisfy is art that reveals how ridiculous things have gotten. Absurd times call for absurd measures, and Langert’s script fits the bill.

A Million More to Go

Trinity Street Playhouse

Through June 30

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Trinity Street Playhouse, Kelsey Mazak, Jennifer Jennings, Mike Ooi, Natalie D. Garcia, Jason Graf, Max Langert, A Million More to Go, theatre, political satire

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