“Tea Party” Brews Up a Cup of America—at The Strand
Gordon Dahlquist Reminds US about Revolutionary History
by Hamilton Nguyen
Using recent political outrages and straight-forward language, “Tea Party” touches on history, politics, and social issues. The rapid-fire dialogue blasts through the audience leaving us shell-shocked and impressed:
AGENT: This isn’t some masculinity contest. Please, you’re used to controlling the conversation—whether it’s a news cycle or a vote on the floor—but this is a war, the variables are beyond your reach.
In an interrogation room, the Agent (provocative Cassidy Brown) is trying to undermine the prisoner’s beliefs. “Tea Party” turns into an encyclopedic review of rebellions, right up to January 6. Gordon Dahlquist takes us from Berlin to Philadelphia to St. Petersburg. He sweeps over anarchy, capitalism, and communism. He invokes conspiracies, sexuality, and mind control.
In an elegant U.S. government office, the Chief of Staff (engaging Anthony Cistaro) and his Aide (versatile Louel Señores) debate with the Agent about a potential threat on a senator’s life. Together, they argue violently about how to react.
The same conversation replays itself with three different outcomes, always ending with a horrific murder. Their traumatic feelings wash over me as blood splatters over the stage.
In one projected timeline, the Aide blows up the office like a terrorist. In another, the Chief shoots the Agent like a spy cleaning house. Fear and danger become normalized as the gunshots bring memories of never-ending mass shootings.
Each conversation highlights a new villain. The play keeps us guessing, refusing to explain the consequences. The murders bring up feelings of distrust and grief, reminding us of the unprovoked killings of George Floyd, Oscar Grant, and Breonna Taylor.
Each timeline surprises us though, because we never know who is going to be the victim or murderer today. During our daily lives, anyone can become a victim. Or, a murderer?
In “Tea Party,” the characters often wear uniforms showing their “side,” today. Prisoners are forced into white jumpsuits representing captured violent idealists. Agents in black enforce the status-quo, trying to stop the revolutionaries.
Today, people with blue-striped flags, red hats, or rainbow clothing proudly display their uniforms too—for better or worse.
In the interrogation room, Prisoner One (Livia Gomes Demarchi) and Prisoner Two (Bob Greene) wear the same white jumpsuit. Their conversation about revolution and governance makes me conflicted, because we can agree with both.
Even in the same jumpsuit, it is not clear if they belong to the one group or even agree on the same goals. This mingling of political identity blurs as the conversation continues. Uneasiness between what is right and wrong fills my heart; doubt fills my mind.
The uneasiness increases as the play goes on. The bumbling Analyst (energetic Isabel Anne Torres) betrays her government agency. The blurred lines between right and wrong worry me. She starts as an optimistic enforcer but becomes a struggling idealist.
“Tea Party” stirs up revolutionary conversations between terrorists, government agents, and citizens. We are reminded that each of them can turn into the other at any moment. Revolutions start with words; every day conversation becomes a battle for the future. Come watch “Tea Party” weave words and actions into revolutions.
“Tea Party” –by Gordon Dahlquist, directed & produced by Erin Merritt, scenes & props designed by Devon Labelle, fight direction by Dave Maier, at The Rueff at American Conservatory Theater, San Francisco. Info: OneOfOurOwn.org– to Mar 19, 2023.
Cast: Cassidy Brown, Anthony Cistaro, Livia Gomes Demarchi, Bob Greene, Louel Señores, and Isabel Anne Torres (AKA Isabel To).
Banner photo: Cassidy Brown & Livia Gomes Demarchi. Photos: Cheshire Isaacs