On Stage: ‘Laura Bush Killed a Guy’

Laura_Bush_Killed_Starring_Lisa_HodsollLisa Hodsoll emerges as fully First Lady in The Klunch world premiere “Laura Bush Killed a Guy.”

She’s got that soft West Texas accent, the omnipresent smile as shiny as her pearls, a cream colored ensemble, and poise to burn.

How much poise? Well, during a matinee press performance Sunday at the aptly named Caos on F, when she went to sit on the set’s only piece of furniture, an armchair on a platform beneath a picture of her beloved George W., during one of director John Vreeke’s many blackouts, she and the chair fell back in disarray. Lights came on and she was on the floor.

Scarcely breaking character, she apologized, still in her accent, righted the chair and began her tale.

After all, the one-woman work by The Klunch artistic director Ian Allen is about regaining poise after a stumble. In her case, it was a teenage automobile accident that resulted in the death of a classmate. She gets to retell the tale a few different ways in the course of the play.

In the first, it’s vengeance for a family squabble; in another, jealous rage over his impregnating a friend; in a third, she’s just blind drunk. Finally there is the version she sticks to, a childhood incident she’s not proud of, but certainly regretted. That’s the version she told Oprah, years after she was in the White House, shortly after she explained in her 2010 memoir.

The whole thing comes up because, at times, when Laura Bush’s name is Googled, one the first options that comes up sometimes is “…Killed a Guy,” particularly after a Halloween themed episode of “Family Guy” that first aired in 2008 and repeats the phrase, turns up on repeats.

What comes up more often, though, is Cowboy Cookies, her recipe of which won the Family Circle’s election year competition of cookie recipes for prospective first ladies (in the 2016 battle, the Clinton Family’s Chocolate Chip beat Melania Trump’s Star Cookies).

As Bush, Hodsoll first emerges repeating the entire recipe for the confection, offers a plate of them (that participant audience members volunteer to cook for each performance) and keeps returning to them, perhaps to avoid the accident at hand.

But in the play, a fuller picture of the reticent former First Lady appears, as a teen in Midland who liked to drink and smoke but also read. She has a couple of different explanations about how she met her husband – first at the gated apartment complex in Houston where she also lived, and he was a notorious party animal and womanizer; then in a car back at Midland. Her affection for her husband is real, and yet she tells how she felt she didn’t fit in under all the usual scrutiny and political snobbery (Caroline Kennedy snubs her!).

There are gripping portions about her own worries immediately after 9/11 and just one segment about the present day that is kind of along the lines of Will Ferrell’s W. at Samantha Bee’s “Not the Washington Correspondents Dinner:” “How do you like me now?” when she says “Really, if you could have it back today, wouldn’t you?”

Allen’s manuscript, full of blackout scenes, could be tightened a bit. He’s managed to find a lot of entertaining Bush family stories to share, including the origins of their nicknames. And one certainly gets a fuller picture of Laura Bush than one ever got willingly from her. The fact that some of the stories are told in different ways reflects the multiple truths one can take from Googling.

Hodsoll is a wonder throughout, though – smiling and incisive and shedding a tear at 9/11. That she got up after her chair fell of the platform was amazing in itself. (Set designer Kim Deane and lighting/projections guy David C. Ghatan almost killed a gal).

 

“Laura Bush Killed a Guy” continues through June 4 at Caos on F, 923 F St NW, Washington, D.C.

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