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The noise of television news is unmistakable and when Barbara Boxer got on the phone Tuesday afternoon, she confirmed that she was, in fact, tuned in at that very moment to hear the latest on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s bombshell announcement that the House would begin a formal impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump.
But that’s not why she was on the line to speak with The Hollywood Reporter. This conversation had to do with the Mueller report, the 448-page document compiled by special counsel Robert Mueller that many had predicted would end with impeachment proceedings when it was released earlier this year. That, of course, did not happen.
The report did inspire a star-studded live reading titled The Investigation: A Search for the Truth in Ten Acts by playwright Robert Schenkkan. Staged at Manhattan’s Riverside Church in June, the production featured Annette Bening, Kevin Kline, Michael Shannon, John Lithgow, Alfre Woodard, Justin Long, Alyssa Milano, Ben McKenzie, Jason Alexander, Kyra Sedgwick, Piper Perabo, Zachary Quinto and Wilson Cruz, among others.
A West Coast version has now been set, and that’s why Boxer was on the line, to confirm the details and offer her take on why this fundraiser production is even more important in the wake of Tuesday’s news.
But first, the finer points of this new show, titled You Can’t Make This Sh*t Up, produced by veteran theater producer Suzi Dietz from a script penned by TV writer-producer Janis Hirsch (Will & Grace, Frasier, Murphy Brown). Scheduled for Oct. 21 at the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills, You Can’t Make This Sh*t Up will feature Larry David as “The Narrator,” along with a cast that includes (in alphabetical order) Tim Bagley, John Fugelsang, Tony Goldwyn, Ernie Hudson, Maz Jobrani, EJ Johnson, Josh Malina, Debra Messing, Stephanie Miller, Poppy Montgomery, Laraine Newman, Jonah Platt, Billy Porter, Paul Reiser and Katey Sagal.
THR has learned that Messing, an outspoken critic of Trump’s who recently sparred with him on Twitter over a THR story, will be playing the role of the president. All proceeds from the performance will benefit Boxer’s PAC for a Change and its work to defend the Democratic House majority, elect a Democratic majority in the Senate and defeat Trump in 2020. Boxer, a retired politician who served as a U.S. senator for California from 1993-2017, was quick to give thanks to veteran entertainment executive Lindy DeKoven, chair of Listen Up America, a political committee formed under Boxer’s PAC for a Change.
“Thank you to Lindy. This was her idea,” Boxer explained, adding that she appreciates the participation of the actors because she knows the cost of sticking one’s neck out politically. “I believe that every single American with a heart and pulse has to be involved in some way in politics, fighting for the things you think are critical for our country to embrace, things like equality and justice and Democracy and freedom. When I was Senator for so many years, every single speech I gave always ended with me saying that it’s so critical you cared and you’re here. So, its particularly gratifying to me to see people who stand to have something to lose. In the case of incredibly talented and gifted performers in this show, when they come out and say they are willing to do this, to me, it means a lot. They have more to lose from it. I am so gratified and grateful to them for wiling to make a difference.”
DeKoven, who served as an executive vp at NBC along with other senior positions at Disney, Warner Bros. and Paramount, was, in turn, also quick to give credit to the (largely female) team helping sort out the show’s details: Boxer; Hirsch; Phyllis Berger, a onetime comedy executive at ABC; Karen Cease, former head of business affairs at Warner Bros; CBS’ Joyce Brotman; Tony Award-winning producer Suzi Dietz; producer Bonnie Bruckheimer; Amazon Studios’ Donna Rosenstein; WME’s Melissa Myers; Warner Bros. Television Writers Workshop’s Deborah Pearlman; casting director Jane Jenkins; former California Film Commission executive director Amy Lemisch; and Eve Brandstein, a veteran casting executive for Norman Lear’s production company.
DeKoven said that when Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton lost to Trump in the 2016 election, she nursed her disappointment for a period of time and then jumped getting into action. “I sent a note to Barbara Boxer and, you now, weeks went by and somebody called,” she explained. That call led to a meeting with Boxer, which led to DeKoven forming an organization of her own under Boxer’s PAC for a Change. It is known as Listen Up America, and through the work of its committees it has hosted a series of fundraisers, events and rallying events to help steer the vote and encourage political activism across various elections. “What we’re doing is raising money to keep the House, regain the Senate and take back the White House. All the money we raise goes to the PAC, and then we decide how to dole out the dollars,” DeKoven explained.
Regarding You Can’t Make This Sh*t Up, DeKoven said that the team assembled a great cast of actors from Hirsch’s “really funny” script. Though not all the roles are set yet, many of the parts could be gender-switched and color blind (for example, Messing as Trump and Johnson as Jared Kushner). Other details that are still being sorted include social media plans and how and where it will be live-streamed. One thing that is confirmed: voter registration opportunities.
“We’re so grateful to have this wonderful group of actors join us at this event,” DeKoven said. “It’s going to be a really entertaining and fun night, but also an important one. We’re looking to educate, inform and entertain that night. We want people to feel excited and enthused to be able to affect change.”
And to generate some laughs.
“You know, I read every word of the Mueller report and I know Robert Mueller. It’s very dry, but it shows the president attempting to obstruct justice 11 different times. In this particular production, it’s so funny because Hirsch is such an incredible writer. She added a narrator [David] and there’s so much commentary from that part all the way through which will make it that much funnier,” Boxer explained.
More sobering was Tuesday’s news. And while the impeachment inquiry proceedings could make the Mueller report seem like last year’s news, Boxer was confident that this fundraiser only increases its value.
“If this impeachment is successful, at this point, I don’t see many badges of courage on the other side of the aisle. The only way to remove him from office is through an election, so it’s important to gather and get together. The timing of this couldn’t be any more opportune. I hope everyone buys a ticket and brings a friend and reaches out to the younger generation,” Boxer said. “We will take any donation — large or small — and use it to give free tickets to those who can’t afford to come.”
Tickets start at $25 and more information can be found here. But regarding the president, Boxer said she only sees one clear ending to Tuesday’s news.
“I have served with five different presidents,” she noted. “I have never seen an abuse of power like this. Many, many times I did not agree with the presidents I served with. There were wars I voted against and many policies I thought were outrageous and wrong, but I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve never seen a president more interested in himself, someone who runs the country like a mob boss — it’s very frightening. This is the moment to have this particular gathering around this amazing play.”
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