'Transition': New Play Imagines What Happened During Obama and Trump's Oval Office Meeting
"I'm wondering what could have happened, and I'm like, 'Oh my god, that's Shakespearean, it's like a tragedy. Somebody's gonna write a play about this,'" says playwright Ray Richmond. "A couple of days passed, and ... there's nothing. I just thought, 'Well, I’ve never written a play, but I have to write this.'"
If you’ve ever wondered what really occurred on Nov. 10, 2016, during the meeting between President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump, you’re not the only one. Like many others, Ray Richmond had sat in front of his television and watched two days earlier as Trump surprised many by taking the lead and becoming our next president, something Richmond thought was inconceivable. From there, he struggled with his own curiosity until he realized what he needed to do.
“I’m wondering what could have happened, and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, that’s Shakespearean, it’s like a tragedy. Somebody’s gonna write a play about this,’” says Richmond. “A couple of days passed, and I’m expecting some big playwright is in motion, and there’s nothing. I just thought, ‘Well, I’ve never written a play, but I have to write this.’”
Transition became the result: an original play by Richmond speculating on some perhaps awkward, passive-aggressive and even genuine moments shared between Trump and Obama in that 90-minute Oval Office meeting. This is Richmond’s first play, after working for The Hollywood Reporter years ago as a television critic and entertainment/media columnist. The show encompasses several major political issues, including nuclear war, health care and immigration. Currently residing in the Lounge Theatre in Hollywood through Sunday, April 9, Transition aims to show the conflicting personalities of America's current and former leaders and the whirlwind of political controversy that has taken center stage.
“It was a challenge to stop changing it every two days. Things kept coming up, and we had to finally just lock it and let our actors learn it,” says Richmond. “We didn’t want to include too many details that would be irrelevant in six months.”
Joshua Wolf Coleman plays Obama and Harry S. Murphy is Trump in Transition, a three-man, one-scene play that doesn’t use a conventional stage and takes place in an intimate theater that seats about 55. The show incorporates all of Trump’s controversial remarks in the media, from “locker room talk” to his misogynistic comments, and even pokes fun at his tweeting obsession. Several times throughout the play, Murphy’s delivery of lines such as Michelle Obama’s job is to “look pretty and keep her mouth shut" and to "deport Obama's assistant" because Trump thinks he’s Mexican resulted in groans from the audience.
It’s not all one-sided and anti-Trump throughout, though. There are moments that show a sensitive side to Trump, including his discussion about Alec Baldwin’s imitation of him on Saturday Night Live and how the performance was “terribly sad” and “so mean.” Obama’s character has similar moments of his own, mentioning his admitted regret on gun control and referring to it as “the greatest failure of my presidency.”
Pete Hickok's set design replicates the Oval Office and includes small details like a family photograph of the Obamas placed on the shelf. The show also incorporates the real voices of Obama and Trump negatively speaking about each other at the beginning of the show and ends with actual media broadcast clips of the two leaders following the real meeting.
Transition wraps up with a performance of an original rap titled “The Divide” by Dylan Richmond. The song addresses the current divide within the country and leaves the audience with a hopeful message to come together and bridge the gap of differences.
Ray Richmond said he and his staff sent letters to Obama and Trump inviting them to a performance with two complimentary tickets each. Although he admitted that a response from President Trump is unlikely, Richmond invited him to speak his mind — something he seemingly has no problem doing.
“I just want a reaction, positive or negative,” says Richmond. “President Trump, if you’re reading this, please tweet about this. Call me the ultimate loser.”
Transition is running at The Lounge Theatre (6201 Santa Monica Blvd,) in Hollywood for five weekends and 16 performances (March 11-April 9). Friday and Saturday shows are at 8 p.m. and Sundays are at 3 p.m. Tickets are available at Plays411.com/Transition.