By Pat Launer
Al Stone is something of a zhlub. He’s not particularly stupid or angry or hate-filled. For years, he was apolitical. He never voted. But then, in 2016, by some weird stroke of fate, he fell in love with Donald Trump. And his life was a wild and crazy roller coaster ride ever after.
Todd Blakesley, who invented and inhabited Al Stone, has been creating political satire in San Diego for decades.
His work goes back to his Crystal Palace Theatre productions in the 1970s (including “The Secret Assassination of Pete Wilson”); through “Cigars and Stripes” in 1984 (nominated for Best New Play by the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle); through the “FritzCon96,” an immersive theater production/pseudo convention staged during the Republican National Convention taking place just two blocks away; to “A Patriot Act: The Trial of George W. Bush” (2006) and many more.
Never one to let an important political moment go by without his critical/analytical commentary on it, last year, Blakesley devised “Crapshoot! Or, Why Al Voted for Trump: A Love Story.”
The solo show’s world premiere at the San Diego International Fringe Festival in 2019 earned him a Critics Choice citation from the San Diego Union-Tribune, and the Cultural Exchange Award from the Reykjavik International Fringe Festival in Iceland. Touring the piece, Blakesley won acclaim at Fringe Festivals in Washington, DC, Boulder, CO, and Marfa, TX.
This year, unable to travel to Reykjavik for their Festival, which had to shift to virtual presentation, he made a movie of the piece, and his image became the face of the Reykjavik Fringe, as well as its opening show.
Seeming, at first, to offer more equanimity than usual, Blakesley uses Al Stone to put a human face on Trumpites (though why is anyone’s guess).
His bottom-line message is to VOTE in this election, but along the way, he aims poison-tipped darts at the narrow-mindedness on both ends of the political spectrum, and toward the end, he takes a bit of glee in peeking inside the current president’s inner sanctum (even portraying, if only vocally, the Orange One himself), to reveal some warped and crooked machinations. And in letters to the president, he offers advice about how to get the wall built — and have the Mexicans pay for it.
Blakesley portrays some 15 characters, male and female, funny (Mr. Jolly, the Clown Workshop facilitator, is a favorite) and sinister (most memorably, a stogey-chomping Trump Defense Fund operative with a golden-shower girlie show; and a no-nonsense shades-wearing advisor to the prez). He becomes a Muslim co-worker and a Latinx little girl.
Framed as a vlog conducted from Al’s closet (and actually shot, for this update in a closet inside Blakesley’s home during COVID quarantine), this entertaining 45-minute theatrical feat showcases its creator’s wild imagination, spiky writing and malleable performance skills (he actually was trained in clowning).
The job Al has when we meet him is with Solomon’s Fortune Cookie Company. He may work in the shipping department, but he thinks he really has a way with quippy future-looking one-liners. When he’s inadvertently driven to street-busking and clowning, he calls himself “Fortune, The Cookie Clown.”
Al’s co-workers’ disgust at his voting choice, and his subsequent loss of employment, lead him on a peaks-and-valleys path of unexpected adventures. Where he started from and where he ends up speak comical volumes about our country, our current divisiveness, our political inanity and our sheer American madness.
As originally directed and sharply filmed by Rhianna Basore, “Crapshoot!” just might help us understand how we got where we are today. (Al calls it a “win-win” for everyone: His candidate triumphed and it energized the country). This is real theater of the absurd.
“Crapshoot! Or, Why Al Voted for Trump: A Love Story” can be viewed indefinitely on YouTube. https://youtu.be/yNFGukZQIOM
Pat Launer, a member of the American Theatre Critics Association, is a long-time San Diego arts writer and an Emmy Award-winning theater critic. An archive of her previews and reviews can be found at patlauner.com.
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: