Behind the throne, there is usually a woman quietly exerting her influence. Two Off-Broadway shows depict such powerful women. Here Lies Love, reprised at the Public Theater, tells a musical story of Imelda Marcos, wife of Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines. The other is the fictional Hester Ferris, a powerful hostess and activist working behind the scenes to influence politics in Washington in The City of Conversation.
Here Lies Love stars Ruthie Ann Miles as Imelda, a poor girl who marries the man destined to rule The Philippines. As the play progresses, Miles begins to look more and more like the real Imelda and last year she won the Lucille Lortel Award for Best Actress in a Musical.
The show creatively takes liberties with the rise of Imelda, her love for Aquino, who chooses love of country over individual love, and then finally her courtship and marriage to Marcos. (Sadly, there’s no mention of Imelda’s penchant for shoes.) The production is directed by Alex Timbers (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Peter and the Starcatcher, Rocky.) The backup singers and dancers are talented and play a multitude of roles, but what makes the show so entertaining is that we, the audience, are part of it, shaking hands with the politicians as they work the crowds. Throughout the show we get to ‘travel’ throughout the Philippines because the stage moves and we go with it. The show is beautifully staged and well synchronized. The show even incorporates real news footages and actual transcripts.
Here Lies Love is an audience participation show, so if you don’t want to get involved (or can’t stand on your feet for 80-90 minutes) buy VIP tickets for upstairs. The theater space fits about 160 people. Quite frankly, it was really fun downstairs. We got to sing along, do line dancing and even help push the moveable stage around. It’s a unique theater experience, and the David Byrne-Fatboy Slim musical is so popular that it has already been extended three times.
Way up town at Lincoln Center is a far different view of politics. The City of Conversation by Anthony Giardina goes behind the scenes to genteel and polite dinner parties where sometimes the real political compromises are made. The play is set in Georgetown in a well-appointed house where Hester Ferris entertains her influential guests. There’s a lot of name dropping — from George Alsop and the Kennedys to Clinton — and many years of politics are covered. In fact, each of the three acts begins with the inaugural address of a new president, from Carter to Reagan to Obama.
Hester feels passionately about liberal politics and so she is flabbergasted when her son, Colin, returns home from The London School of Economics with his fiancée and both of them espouse conservative ideas. Now it’s as if they are in armed camps. At least it is for the son and daughter-in-law, an aggressive, pushy young woman. Yet Hester doesn’t see this. For her, politics are about ideals, and despite the disagreements, one kisses and makes up afterwards. She makes some choices that ultimately sever her relationship with her son and his child.
The wonderful Jan Maxwell, whose talents are well worth the ticket price, portrays Hester. She’s so good that the others, particularly Michael Simpson (as her son and later in a double role as her grandson) and Kristen Bush as his politically manipulative wife appear to be acting while Jan becomes her character. We may not agree with some of her choices as a mother but we admire her spirit and her passion.