Interview: Mario Correa’s play “Commander” raises possibility of gay Presidential candidate

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A playwright and a theatre critic talk LGBT politics in 2016
by Mario Correa and Larry Murray

HRC Showcase Theatre, the premier theatre company in the Hudson River Valley, solely dedicated to staged readings of new plays, has chosen a truly thought provoking play for the fourth staged reading of the company’s 25th anniversary season on Saturday, April 16, 2016. Titled Commander,  playwright Mario Correa dares to pose the question of whether America is ready for a gay presidential candidate. It’s something that one very ambitious politician and his very reluctant partner are about to find out.

Commander was a runner-up for the 2014 National Latino Playwriting Award and a semi-finalist for the 2014 Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center National Playwrights Conference. The staged reading of Commander will be performed by professional actors in the auditorium of the First Reformed Church, located at 52 Green Street in Hudson, NY. Joining Artistic Director Barbara Waldinger will be actors Jack Garrity, Janet Kimlicko, Robert Meksin, James Occhino, and Johnny Segalla.

Commander, poster design by Joanne Kelly.

Commander, poster design by Joanne Kelly.

Mario, have you been surprised as the days go by that your play Commander is more relevant than ever to what is happening in this year’s Presidential race?

Mario Correa: Absolutely.  It’s been really interesting to see how relevant the play is this election cycle, even though I began writing it several years ago.  At first glance, our lead character—a gay politician of middling stature who makes an unlikely bid for the Presidency—may not seem to have a lot in common with Donald Trump.  But in fact, both men share a frustration borne of being political outsiders, and an anger at the establishment, and they’re determined to storm the barricades.  In the play, we see what one man is willing to do to satisfy that need for widespread acceptance, while in real life, we’re watching it play out on our television screens every single day.

Do you think someone from the LGBT community could ever run – and win – the Presidency?

I do think we’ll see an out LGBT President, and I think it will be sooner than most of us expect.  And that’s because of not only the huge social change we’ve experienced in recent years, but also simply of demographics: Today’s young people, most of whom don’t harbor the same prejudices as many from previous generations, will eventually become tomorrow’s middle-aged moms and dads.  They’ll be willing to pull the lever for an out Presidential candidate.  I think I’ll see that in my lifetime.

Do you think that reality has become more entertaining than fiction?

Reality has become more spectacle than a theatrical spectacle could ever be.  If I wrote a play that contained the kinds of characters, utterances and inanities that we’re seeing play out in real life, audiences would roll their eyes and walk out.  I had this same challenge several years ago with my first play, “Tail! Spin!”, which documented the real-life sex scandals of a number of national politicians.  Whereas I’d originally set out to write a story inspired by those scandals, I ended up writing a verbatim play that simply used their own utterances, word for word.  At the end of the day, you can’t make this stuff up.

What has struck you the most about the current rise of Trump and the increasing harshness of the voters towards the candidates they don’t like?

What has struck me most about Trump’s rise is this widely talked about notion that it’s a one-time event.  I don’t think we’re that lucky.  The phenomenon of the candidate as blowhard — any candidate — is here to stay.  We used to want our politicians to be “more” than we are — more educated, more prepared, more experienced.  But—and I say this as someone who’s worked for both Republicans and Democrats—when John McCain put Sarah Palin on the ticket, he opened the door to the idea that the highest leaders in our land can or even should be profoundly average.  All bets are off.  Trump isn’t succeeding because we think he’s some great businessman; he’s succeeding because we think he’s just like us.

Is your play Commander non-partisan so that people should attend with an open mind?

Funny enough, it never occurred to me to make the play partisan.  Commander is set in the world of politics, but it’s not about warring philosophies or one party versus another.  Instead, it’s a human story about a man struggling with his own identity and his fractious personal relationship with his partner, even as he strives for the highest office in the land.  I think that kind of human story is more interesting than a partisan political story could ever be, and I’m grateful to everyone at HRC Showcase Theatre for the opportunity to tell it.

Words of wisdom from someone who has worked the DC political scene:

Brace yourself.  If you think this election is bad now, just wait till the fall.

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The reading of Commander begins at 7:30pm. The performances will be followed by a reception, featuring delicious snacks and beverages, and a discussion session with the playwright, actors, and director. Admission to each reading is $15. For reservations, please telephone 518-851-2061. HRC Showcase Theatre productions are performed in the First Reformed Church of Hudson, 52 Green St., Hudson, N.Y.

*This program is made possible (in part) with public funds from the Decentralization Program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, administered through the Community Arts Grants Fund in Columbia County by the Greene County Council on the Arts. Additional funding is provided by a grant from the Hudson River Bank and Trust Foundation.

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