nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
August 15, 2004
There were just eleven people in the audience at the opening of Hanging Chad, while hundreds were downstairs earlier the same day enjoying Granola! The Musical. This is precisely what Greg Klein is concerned about, and why he has written and directed Hanging Chad for this year's FringeNYC. The obvious subject of his play is the abuses that occurred in the Presidential election in Florida in 2000; just beneath the surface simmer—no, boil—a host of issues related to where our country is right now: the war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, anti-environmental legislation, and many others. (Just this morning on MSNBC there was a report about the "business-friendly" erosion of OSHA regulations protecting workers from tuberculosis and other harmful conditions.) The point is: Hanging Chad is timely and pertinent—it's about the direction that our government and country is heading and our responsibility to be informed and exercise our voting rights to influence that direction. And yet it's almost certainly going to prove to be a hard sell in a society that thinks it's more important to sell TV commercials via reality shows than provide comprehensive coverage of a national political party's convention.
Hanging Chad is a solo play, performed by Jordan Deas, about an African American man who, through a bureaucratic mishap that may not have been entirely accidental, found himself disenfranchised in the 2000 Presidential election. Because Huey Michael Charles shared the same name as a convicted felon, he was struck from the voting rolls in Florida. Now Huey has returned to his home state of New York (he was born in Harlem) to spread the word about what happened to him. He also uses his hour in front of us to reflect and rant on some of the changes that have occurred in the United States since the Republicans took over in 2000; he ends his time with a call to action that starts, appropriately, with each of us heading to the voting booth on November 2.
Opponents of the present administration—the people likeliest to see Hanging Chad—will find very little new in all of this; Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, for example, covers much of the same ground (and more potently, too). Nevertheless, one has to admire Klein and Deas for taking their passions so seriously: how many of us have given up most of their summer to try to rouse our fellow Americans to political action?
I wish, though, that Klein had written more of a play and less of a speech. Though Hanging Chad includes some familial background and the occasional humorous anecdote, it's never remotely dramatic (except for the inherent drama of the fate of the nation). Klein might be more persuasive—and it might be easier to persuade people to come listen—if he wrote a character who showed, rather than told, what his disenfranchisement meant to him (and to us).
My companion and I left the show wondering how true the fictional Huey's story actually is—why, for example, has there been no class action suit suing for the violated voting rights of people like him? Or: perhaps there has been; certainly one of the points of Hanging Chad is that the media has been remiss in covering all sides of this particular issue.