By Briana Thomas, Special to the AFRO
Dave, a musical comedy, made its world premiere July 18 at Arena Stage in Southwest, Washington, D.C.
The play is an adaptation from the 1993 Oscar-nominated film ‘Dave.’ Set in the District, the plot centers around a high school teacher who looks almost identical to the Commander-in-Chief Bill Mitchell. When the president becomes sick and falls into a coma, presidential lookalike Dave Kovic is hired by the Secret Service to stand in as the leader of the United States.
The production is about love, laughter, scandal, and what happens when an ordinary man is pushed into a position of power.
Kovic is played by Broadway actor Drew Gehling. Gehling costars alongside five other Broadway actors and actresses including, Bryonha Marie Parham who plays the role of White House Director of Communication Susan Lee.
“Susan makes him look better than he is,” Parham told the AFRO. She explained the duties of press secretaries and aides are to create an image of the president that looks a little more “dolled up” and she is happy to be able to hold this leadership role as a Black woman in the show. “It’s a really cool responsibility,” Parham said.
Lee’s character was originally played by a White man, Kevin Dunn, in the movie. Thus, the role was changed to fit Parham.
“I think the musical should mirror what our world looks like now, we have people of color in politics, we have the Obamas and Michelle,” she said. “I’m honored because I get to be in the White House.”
She said she channeled Omarosa Manigault Newman, former political aide to President Donald Trump, and Kerry Washington’s role as the bossy bold Olivia Pope in the hit show Scandal to help her play Susan Lee.
“I’m constantly sort of putting people in their place, which is comedy in itself,” she said. “The shenanigans we are portraying are not far from the shenanigans that are happening now.”
An actress of 12 years and a Kansas City native, Parham said she was a part of a production in 2009 at the Kennedy Center and is now returning to what she calls a “huge theater town” to star as Lee.
She said the play touches on politics and has scenes in the Oval Office, cabinet meetings and depicts interactions with Congress.
Although the writers did not name political parties in the show Parham said the play is open for the audience to participate and choose their own side. “It’s very idealistic…we are working very hard not to choose sides because the show is very close to our political audience now,” she explained.
According to Parham, there is a moment in the play where the setting is at a baseball game and the audience is asked to join in and participate in singing the national anthem.
“The climate that we are in not everyone wants to stand up and sing the national anthem…Some of the people didn’t want to stand up and they just kind of sat with their arms crossed, you have to respect that because this is America,” she said. “We thought it was just going to be a joke but it turned into a big moment.”
Protesting during the national anthem has been an ongoing controversy since former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for it before a football game in 2016. Kneeling before athletic events in protest of police brutality, racial oppression and social injustices against Blacks quickly drew national attention.
On Sep. 22, 2017 at an Alabama rally, Trump was very vocal about his opposition to the nonviolent protests calling it disrespectful to the flag and suggested owners should fire those who kneel during the national anthem and say, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired. He’s fired!” Trump ripped.
In May, the league issued a mandate that requires all players on the field to stand on the sidelines during the “Star Spangled Banner” or choose to remain in the locker room until the song has finished playing, The Washington Post reported.
The interactive portion of the production may address a current debate, but overall Parham said the show airs on the light side.
“Everything about it is kind of in the middle it just aims to make you laugh. There are moments that stop the show with comedy because it’s silly,” she said. “People at this moment are looking to laugh.”
The production runs through Aug. 19 at the Arena Stage in Southwest, Washington, D.C.