History repeats itself. We can learn from past mistakes. Or can we?
In Martha Mitchell Calling, a sparkling production by Virginia Repertory Theatre playing at Hanover Tavern, we get a front seat to history as we buddy-up with Martha Mitchell (Debra Wagoner), wife of John Mitchell (Joe Pabst), US Attorney General for Richard Nixon, to witness the ugly behind-the-scenes machinations of politics.
Martha’s indominable and sassy spirit is what first catalyzes her love affair with John, influences his joining the Republican party and the Nixon cabinet, and eventually the illumination of the emerging scandal. Her optimism, commitment to values, and love of gossip and the limelight instigates not only the demise of their marriage, but a whole presidential administration.
Witnessing what was, until recent events, the most scandalous administration in modern history lends a sobering comparison to current controversies. I couldn’t help but to compare American culture and politics over this span of fifty years, and pondering both how far we have come and how little things have changed.
There is no easy way to fully compare and comprehend the social and political ramifications of such events on our personal and collective lives and trajectories. Perhaps one of the most valuable functions of the arts when done well is to provoke us to consider such unanswerable questions.
And Martha Mitchell Calling is well done. Wagoner and Pabst, both veterans of the Richmond theater community, concocted a theatrical experience akin to the subtle notes of a fine Bordeaux. As actual husband and wife, the pair made pure magic together as they explored the marital spectrum ranging from love bird exhilaration to the devastation of divorce. Though the play was about the couple, it was practically a one actor show, with Wagoner’s portrayal of the iconic and stylish spitfire singing like a love letter to her idealism, courage, and charm.
The production team led by Director Rick Hammerly created a seamless interface with the era through set (Dasia Gregg), costume (Sue Griffin), lighting (Matthew Landwehr), sound (Kelsey Cordrey) and stage management (Crimson Piazza). Set and video were used especially well to further contrast that era to ours through TV footage and communication technology, including my favorite, a pink princess phone.
A treat to the senses, heart, and soul, Martha Mitchell Calling is entertaining, informative, and thought-provoking – a sure bet for an evening out with teens and adults alike.
Run-time is about two hours, including a 15-minute intermission. Martha Mitchell Calling runs through October 29 at Hanover Tavern. For showtimes and tickets, visit virginiarep.org.