Cast as President Donald Trump against an evil plot of North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, something scarier than a theatrical debut lurked backstage: the Trumpian hairpiece!
“With the road to Comicon littered with death, one thing is certain: Mom’s van will never be the same!”
Amanda Foreman had a stand-out column in The Wall Street Journal entitled, “Literature Behind Bars” (“Historically Speaking,” July 14-15, 2018). If you cannot view it without a subscription, here’s the gist. It’s a brief literary survey of the most profound prison writing spanning the centuries. “Prison writings are about suffering and endurance,” Ms. Foreman wrote. “The spirit remains free, even when the body is in bondage.”
Ms. Foreman presented examples, some of which will be familiar to the readers of These Stone Walls. She wrote that “modern prison writing came into its own during the Reformation when large numbers of educated people were incarcerated as being enemies of the state.”
Saint Thomas More comes to mind, but Amanda Foreman cited another, the English poet Richard Lovelace. His poem, “To Althea from Prison” was composed in London’s Gatehouse prison in 1642. Today its first verse graces the Home Page of These Stone Walls:
“Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage. Minds innocent and quiet take that for an hermitage. If I have freedom in my Love, and in my soul am free, Angels alone that soar above enjoy such liberty.”
Prison writers who have endured the tests of both prison and time include Saint Paul whose Epistles to the Philippians and Colossians were written from prison around 62 AD. Others are Russian author and political prisoner, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Nazi-era Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, American Jesuit priest and Soviet prisoner, Father Walter Ciszek, and South African Apartheid resistor, Nelson Mandela. As Amanda Foreman described,
“The tradition of prison literature as a source of hope and inspiration – for writers and readers alike – continues in our own time.”
LIFE IMITATES ART
Even in the worst Soviet gulags, stories like the one I am about to tell emerged as prisoners discovered their creativity and used it to transcend walls of oppression and despair. I have encountered some amazing creativity in the place where I live. One young man whom I have known for a long time is Jim Parker, age 32. Sent to prison at 17, he is today devoted to atoning for his offense by turning tragedy into triumph.
While so many young prisoners descended into the lure of a prison gang culture, Jim took another path. He has earned Bachelors and Masters degrees in prison without a dime of taxpayer funds. He has mastered several musical instruments and has become an accomplished playwright and producer. His most recent production was a collaborative writing effort and one that was – there’s no other way to put it – either creative genius or bizarre chaos. I’ll let you decide!
Jim gathered six writers to compose six short plays. He and the group then melded the six into a single script. While it was still untitled, Jim began to gather potential actors and stage hands to afternoon rehearsals in the prison gymnasium. As this endeavor grew over several months, I asked Jim if I could attend a rehearsal, interview some of the cast, and write about it.
Jim spoke with the cast and they were all in agreement. So he added me to the endeavor as “press agent.” I attended my first stage rehearsal in early March. While I was watching this amazing creation unfold, Jim said, “We haven’t found someone willing to play a lead character in the script.”
The entire cast stared at me. Jim played me like a fiddle (which is one of the instruments he has mastered). Defying my instinct to get up and flee, I made the fatal mistake of asking Jim the identity of the uncast character. Jim said, “We need an older articulate gentleman to play [are you sitting down?] President Donald Trump.”
Articulate? Putting the irony aside, I was thus drafted to play the Leader of the Free World in a political satire opposite Kim Jong Un of North Korea. This was by no means a partisan affair. All I could say was what President Trump himself might have said:
“This is going to be H-U-G-E! The best play E-V-E-R! We are going to make American drama GREAT again! We are going to transcend a wall, and the best part…? We are going to get North Korea to pay for it!”
“What was I thinking?” I asked myself later that night as I pondered facing two months of daily rehearsals in the prison gym after a full day at work in the library. Then I was given a copy of the script – 37 pages of the most incomprehensible and outrageous plot I have ever encountered. “He only has a few lines,” Jim insisted.
Trump appeared twelve times throughout this play, delivered a multitude of speeches in typical Trumpian style and, in the end, saved the world. The photo below is of the entire cast and crew. I am in a dark shirt with Pornchai Moontri in the center and our friend, J.J. Jennings between us. Pornchai and J.J. were part of the construction crew that built the stage and props. After the photo begins a capsule summary of the plot with photos scattered throughout.
Before production got underway, Joshua Budgett, an accomplished carpenter who lives with us, designed a magnificent stage. It was composed of twenty interlocking four-by-four sections that could be dismantled and stored for future productions. Josh Budgett’s stage design is a work of art that will last for decades.
All the wood for the stage was donated, and prisoners also donated their time to build the various components. The scene below takes place in the wood shop where (L to R) Pornchai Moontri, J.J. Jennings; Oliver Hooper, and Michael Martel employ their prodigious woodworking skills to make the stage a reality.
In this scene, Joseph Daniel, J.J. Jennings, and Darryll Bifano rehearse a scene on one of the stage’s 20 interlocking sections.
The production settled on a title: “Assassin’s Deed: Six Disks to Comicon.” It opens with Marty McQueen (Brian Taylor) and his friend, Steve, 20-something-year-old slackers and consummate nerds with plans to attend the massive Comicon Convention at the Los Angeles Civic Center. I asked my friend, Joseph Daniel – who was Managing Director and an actor in the play – to describe Comicon for Us:
“Comicon is a ginormous gathering of geeks, nerds, and hardcore comic book fans so they can live out their fantasies and wear tight spandexy costumes, and, for once in their lives, be the cool kids in the house if even for just a day.”
Sorry, Comicon fans. So much for a spirit of inclusivity! You might remember Joseph Daniel from one of several appearances at These Stone Walls including, “Against a Brick Wall: A Young Man’s Survival in Prison.” Joseph was entirely out of his urban culture element in this celebration of nerdhood, but he lent his considerable talents for both writing and direction.
Back to Marty and Steve. In the opening scene, Marty – played masterfully by Brian Taylor – is pleading with his Mom to let him and Steve borrow her 1994 Dodge Caravan to go to Comicon. “But Moooom!” Marty pleaded, “We’ve been planning this for mooooonths!”
In the photo below, Nick Sizemore (rear) and Kyle Buffum (front left) actually built a 1994 Dodge Caravan which ended up being a co-star in the play. Nick and Kyle are impressive guys. They were the creative anchors and the behind-the-scenes guys who got things done.
Nick Sizemore was Technical manager for the production while he and Kyle Buffum doubled as “stunt drivers” (They powered the van “Fred Flintstone style” while hidden unseen in its trunk). They also doubled as President Trump’s Secret Service protection in a number of scenes. You will easily spot then in suits and dark glasses in the cast photos. Kyle made the ultimate sacrifice. He cut his hair to make the Trumpian hairpiece. It’s not easy to see in the photos under Trump’s cap, but it’s there.
MIKE AND FREDDY
The scene switches to North Korea and the home of reclusive dictator, Kim Jong Un. He announces to his generals that he has a nefarious plan for the control of all of Korea. He has developed a secret weapon – “The Super-Hoopinator” – which he plans to unleash upon an unsuspecting world. The SuperHoopinator will transfer into Kim Jong Un all the skills of anyone who activates it.
Kim Jong’s nefarious plan begins with his challenge to South Korean President Moon Jae-In for a one-on-one, winner-takes-all basketball game for the control of a united Korea. Just before the game, Kim Jong has a plan to invite his good friend, former American basketball star Dennis Rodman, to activate the SuperHoopinator thus transferring into Kim Jong all Dennis Rodman’s basketball skills.
To hide this plan, Kim Jong embeds his Super-Hoopinator onto six Lord of the Rings DVDs. However, Michael Cootier (played by Donald Levesque) is an American conspiracy theorist and skilled computer hacker. He has hacked into Kim Jong’s security sites to discover and divert the plan.
Assisted by his friend, hacker, rapper, and double agent Freddy McCombes (Joseph Daniel), Mike and Freddy hacked into the Lord of the Rings DVDs and reprogrammed the Super-Hoopinator device to instead activate in Kim Jong an incessant impulse to dance and wear a wedding dress. [Don’t blame me! I didn’t write this!]
PRESIDENT TRUMP AND THE SECRET SERVICE
The scene switches to the White House and the Oval Office. President Donald Trump is being briefed on a report from the intelligence communities who had a mole planted in Kim Jong’s house staff. They, too, have learned of Kim Jong’s nefarious plan. To catch Kim Jong in the act, the White House issues an invitation to meet in America.
However, Mike the Hacker has also set out to foil Kim Jong. When he remotely reprogrammed the DVDs containing the SuperHoopinator, he also programs a North Korean security site to ship them to six different locations in the United States. The disks end up in the homes of nerds, hackers, and Mike’s fellow conspiracy theorists all of whom are on their way to the Comicon Convention.
Kim Jong Un and his security staff discover the missing DVDs and decipher Mike’s computer hack. They send out a team of four assassins who leave a cross-country body count in their desperation to find the DVDs. Meanwhile, Jim Jong heads to Los Angeles and Comicon with Dennis Rodman to put the plot back on schedule. Only now, Kim Jong has added a plot to use the Super-Hoopinator on all Americans who will become puppets under his control.
The White House also learns the plans for the DVDs. President Trump and the Secret Service head to Comicon to head off everyone else: Kim Jong, his team of assassins, and Mike and Freddy. In the scene below, President Trump and the Secret Service have the nerds and conspiracy theorist-hackers detained in one room.
Nerd Marty (Brian Taylor) is on the left in his Star Trek Comicon uniform with his phaser on stun. Hacker Mike (Donald Levesque) is on the far right disguised as Star Wars’ Boba Fett to fit in at Comicon. Double-agent Freddy (Joseph Daniel) is seated to my right along with Kim Jong’s subdued assassins. I remember whispering to Joseph in this scene, “Some of our nerds are not acting!”
THE FINAL SCENE
President Trump and the hackers end up being jointly responsible for foiling Kim Jong and saving the world. When the Super-Hoopinator is unleashed, instead of defeating President Moon
for control of all Korea, Kim Jong is transformed into a compulsive dancer in a wedding dress.
Trump announces that the world is safe for democracy once again, and in a final scene (below), he kicks off his 2020 presidential campaign with a rousing speech. The President exits the stage to a standing ovation from an exhausted crowd of 500 who spent the previous ninety minutes laughing uncontrollably.
In the real world, as this all played out on stage, President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un came to an historic agreement. However, this time it was President Trump who was thwarted. The cast and crew of Assassins Deed, Six Disks to Comicon now take full credit for settling the Korean crisis.
Editor’s note: Please share this post. You may also like these other “prison-based” posts from Father Gordon MacRae: