Baum for Peace
nytheatre.com review by Jesica Avellone
August 11, 2007
Baum for Peace transports its audience to San Francisco in 2004. Gay people are getting married in the rain at City Hall, Congress is voting to support an Iraq invasion, and disillusioned Terry Baum is changing her registration from the Democratic to the Green Party so she can run against Representative Nancy Pelosi. Those first two events were landmark enough to live on as vivid rallying points three years later, but it's Baum's whirlwind, outrage-induced adventure in American democracy that instills the jaded soul with hope.
It's difficult to look at Baum for Peace as "theatre" in the traditional sense. Yes, Baum is our protagonist and we watch her confidence grow as she learns to articulate her convictions, but this is first and foremost a play about the power each individual American possesses to have his or her voice heard. It is a political piece. Baum herself, plucky and wide-eyed, is simply an example of what we're all empowered to be—a vocal member of the democratic process. In fact, at the end of every performance, Baum issues an invitation for the audience to join her and her collaborators at a nearby café to discuss the state of the union and how we can actively participate in it. If it weren't so optimistic, Baum for Peace would be a short step from agitprop.
That said, though Baum is clearly and passionately a political being, she identifies as a playwright, and it's the attempt to combine those affinities that doesn't always serve her play. For example, her activist impulse to take time stressing particular issues often trumps her theatrical impulse to shape an arc to her story, as well it should—Baum is at her best as a rabble-rouser. Still, I found myself wishing she would flesh out the humor and camp already evident throughout the play and allow those strengths and her true fervor for democracy to carry Baum for Peace instead of trying to join them to a linear storyline. Especially because her tale is now three years old, such a focus on the events of 2004 (not to mention how specifically they're related to San Francisco) detracts from the primary goal of inspiring the audience to action. One can't help but fill in the relatively recent history on Pelosi, the Patriot Act, the Green Party, global warming, the war in Iraq, etc., and wonder what Baum would have us do today, in the present.
Admittedly, half the reason I was hungering for Baum to cut loose more often is because the moments of Baum for Peace that shine the brightest are those Baum shares with Richard "Scrumbly" Koldewyn, who wrote the show's catchy, Tom Lehrer-style music. Dressed in drag and playing Ilse, Baum's campaign manager, come all the way from Germany to advance the American Green Party, Koldewyn injects the piece with the sort of energy only the thrillingly ridiculous can. Koldewyn and Baum are longtime collaborators (according to their bios), and their rapport is strong. In the scenes and songs they share, the message is clearest, the script is wittiest, and the performances are strongest. I'm eager to hear their take on more present issues. Perhaps a revue for the 2008 presidential elections?