Mosaic Theater sends conservative, liberal to hell to fight for their souls

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Inherit the Windbag' (Part 1)

Politicians have long sold their souls for power, but when did it become entertainment?

Mosaic Theater in Northeast D.C. suggests it was during the 1968 political debates between liberal author Gore Vidal and conservative pundit William F. Buckley Jr., a rivalry that was recently chronicled in the documentary “Best of Enemies” (2015).

Mosaic gives those debates a supernatural twist in the eight-part web series “Inherit the Windbag,” spoofing the title of the 1955 play and 1960 film “Inherit the Wind.” The latest episode just dropped Tuesday with new episodes every two weeks.

“Mosaic decided to put these on what we call a Zoom Movie,” Director Lee Mikeska Gardner told WTOP. “They sent all the actors green screens, cameras and microphones. During August, we recorded everything from our homes.”

The show finds Vidal and Buckley squaring off in the afterlife of political purgatory.

“The premise is they find themselves in a hell hosted by Richard Nixon,” Gardner said. “They’re forced to recreate the debates with the hope that one of them will win and therefore get to leave Hell. … There’s literally a scoreboard, so as each of them try to gain points, they call in people they know to help their case or hurt the other’s case.”

Those guest witnesses range from Truman Capote to Robert F. Kennedy.

“So far, we’ve had Ayn Rand show up, we’ve had Norman Mailer show up, we will in the future have James Baldwin show up,” Gardner said.

Bringing these characters to life is a talented cast of four.

“We have some great actors in this,” Gardner said. “John Lescault plays Buckley and Paul Morella plays Gore Vidal. We cast them pretty early on. … They were both in ‘Angels in America,” which I directed ages and ages ago. Then two people I didn’t know, Stephen Kime and Tamieka Chavis, play the demons and all the guest stars.”

It’s all written by acclaimed Washington Post humorist Alexandra Petri.

“I consider Alex one of our foremost political satirists,” Gardner said. “She writes a Washington Post column, which I read religiously. She’s been a playwright for a while. This is her most ambitious play. It was commissioned by Mosaic as part of our locally grown playwriting series. When we started this two summers ago it was just an idea.”

By the time it was ready to perform, they wondered if it would still be timely.

“We had this lofty premise [but] thought, ‘Is the play still going to be relevant?'” Gardner said. “It was being presented right before the election with the hope that we would crystalize the run-up to the election. Then things have just gotten so crazy-town in the world of what a democracy or a republic is, it is more frighteningly relevant.”

Does she think America’s constitutional crisis will subside anytime soon?

“I think we’re in the crisis of it, the heat of it, and the decisions we make on how we disseminate, consume and demand real news is going to be really telling … of where our democracy is going to go,” Gardner said. “It all trickles back to these 1968 debates. … You’re going, ‘Oh shoot, they said that in ’68? He could have said that yesterday.'”

Of all the virtual content out there, why should folks watch this?

“All the WTOP listeners should check this out for the entertainment factor,” Gardner said. “Each episode is between 8 and 15 minutes. It’s a great decompression. You’ll laugh, you’ll likely wince a bit, and you’ll definitely be going ‘uh huh, uh huh, uh huh!”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Inherit the Windbag' (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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