ORLANDO – The Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival kicks off at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 18 at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, and this year the nearly three-week long festival will feature the largest line-up of shows in its history.
One of the shows taps into one of the hottest topics in the news today: the presidential campaign and, in particular, the rise of Donald Trump as a serious contender. Acting Passionate Productions of Lakeland, which produced “Frankenchrist: The Musical!” two years ago at Orlando Fringe, is this year bringing to audiences a parody of the Pulitzer Prize winning, Broadway hit “HAMILTON.” Their version: “Simpleton: The Legend of President Trump,” complete with a cast that includes Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, and all of The Donald’s current and previous wives.
“Simpleton” is based on a story by Thom Mesrobian, and written by Mesrobian, Seth Brown and Samuel Hammersley, and directed by Mark Hartfield and Mesrobian.
Freeline Media asked Mesrobian about the play this week.
FM: You certainly seem to have chosen a timely subject matter, in light of the presidential campaign. How did this show come about?
Thom: I went and saw “Hamilton” on Broadway in September. It was my first trip to New York City and my first Broadway musical. I was overwhelmed by New York City. I grew up in the south. Diversity. True diversity is not something I was familiar with. There were often times in New York City that I, as a middle-aged white man, was a minority. And I was fine with that. Never bothered me for a second. And then I’d turn on the TV and hear his rhetoric against Mexico. I’d hear the fear based plans of his “administration” and I could not understand how this was happening in an America that can produce something as wonderful as “Hamilton.” Then I came back home and was working in a show with my head still swirling from my trip and the word “Simpleton” popped in to my head. The idea of a “Hamilton” parody formed quickly and it honestly it coalesced pretty naturally from there.
FM: In developing the show, did you find that Donald Trump was natural subject for comedic potential?
Thom: Absolutely. A lot of comedy comes from pain and Trump is certainly a pain. But seriously, his claims, his syntax, his policies are so laughable. He’s provided more than enough fodder for all the parody news shows and my show combined. We researched a lot and all (well, most) of the things “Our Trump” says are actual quotes. And it’s not just Trump. Our show features Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, Melania Trump, heck even Sarah Palin shows up for a hot second. There’s lots of comedy to be found in the GOP.
FM: Based on the two minute preview at Mature Fringe, it sounds like your show will definitely fit in with the overall mood and atmosphere at Fringe.
Thom: Thanks! And yes, it will. It’s a very irreverent take on both “Hamilton” and Trump. There’s a couple of moments where we hope the audience goes with us into the absurdity. In contrast however, we never treated this a “Fringe show”. It’s extremely difficult stuff we are attempting here. And we have assembled a tremendous cast of professional actors to execute it. The rapping alone is a major challenge. Then we add our choreography and non stop staging to mirror “Hamilton” and it becomes what I believe to be one of the most demanding and difficult fringe shows that I have ever seen.
FM: Do you think politics is a natural subject for humor?
Thom: Sure is! Just look at the daily show! Politics and lampoon has gone hand in hand since before Alexander Hamilton himself. But to go back to the idea of comedy as pain, underneath all the absurdity of Trump there is true terror. I think it would be a very bad thing for the country if he were to be elected. I started writing this back in January or maybe even earlier. There was no idea he would get this far. But unfortunately, a lot of what I wrote in the show has come true since January. But even back then when everyone was laughing I thought it was very important to say “it’s time to stop laughing.” Trump’s popularity says some very unfunny things about our country. By the end of our show no one will be laughing and we hope our audiences come away with a sobering, albeit tiny, bit of truth.
FM: After Fringe, where does the production go from here?
Thom: Nowhere. It dies with fringe. That’s the beauty of the Festival. It’s your only chance to see it! I have no plans to extend the run.
There will be seven performances of the show in the Gold Venue (The Orlando Museum of Art in Loch Haven Park) with opening night on May 19 at 6:15 p.m.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..