In “When We Go Upon the Sea,” Lee Blessing (“A Walk in the Woods”) has the imagination and wit to haul George W. Bush to The Hague to appear before an international war crimes tribunal. Just in from Philly, InterAct’s droll production relishes the pickle the former prez finds himself in as he sweats out the long night before his initial courtroom appearance. But instead of throwing his prisoner some hardballs, scribe produces two gentle handlers who make sure no one gets hurt — or intellectually stimulated. In the immortal words of Peggy Lee: “Is that all there is?”
Helmer Paul Meshejian executes a technical curtsey to Dutch efficiency with this spare production. From the clean lines of Meghan Jones’ handsome hotel-room setting (discreetly lighted by Thom Weaver) to the understated delivery of the superior cast, show reeks of class.
Without slipping into gross cari-cature, Conan McCarty (“A Few Good Men”) captures the essential George so cruelly outlined by Blessing. The terse sentences. The impatience with thought. The wary eyes. The jerky gestures. The childish petulance.
Aside from some abrupt flashes of anger (“I fucking hate the Dutch”) and megalomania (“I was once the most powerful personal in the world”) to contend with, McCarty can coast on this clever, but superficial study of an anxious man too weary to fight his fate with any real conviction.
Whatever subtlety there is in the piece has gone into Piet (the riveting Peter Schmitz), the soothing handler George scornfully dismisses as “an overgrown bellhop.” He’s a sly one, he is, and Schmitz conveys all kinds of secret thoughts and subversive motives lurking beneath his placid facade.
But aside from a passionate drunken aria extolling Dutch landscape art (“The sky eats you alive!”), Piet doesn’t engage George in any meaningful exchange. And just when this gentle pacifist works himself up to speak his true thoughts about war, Blessing calls him off to assure a showy entrance for the third character in this drama — a prostitute.
Kim Carson (“Hedwig & the Angry Inch”) is properly seductive as Anna-Lisa, the preternaturally calm woman who uses her sexual expertise to relax the high-strung George. But in the process of calming George down, her soporific presence also drains the tension from the play.
Blessing obviously has some lesson plan for this play. Some high-minded message about taming the savage beasts of warrior nations through altruistic displays of pure generosity. But big bad George loses his dramatic appeal once he achieves post-coital bliss, and missionaries are no fun at all unless their fat is also in the fire.