by Linda Lombardi, Artistic Associate and Literary Manager
There are few things in theater more exciting than a play full of engaging characters wrestling with big ideas. One of the many brilliant aspects of Anthony Giardina’s play, The City of Conversation, is how Tony presents both the liberal and conservative side of the issues, and brings each side to life through richly drawn characters. During rehearsals I sat down with three of our amazing actors – Caroline Hewitt (Anna Fitzgerald), Jjana Valentiner (Carolyn Malonee), and Tom Wiggin (Chandler Harris) — for our own political roundtable.
The City of Conversation takes us into the world of Georgetown’s heyday of political dinner parties. If you could have dinner with any political figure alive or dead, who and why?
Tom: John Kennedy — in Vegas. Par-tay!
Caroline: Queen Victoria. I'm intrigued by a queen whose reign spanned the greater part of a decade — and a decade filled with such huge changes for the world and for England. I'd like to talk to her about how it was to be a female in power at the time, how she negotiated the personal and the political. I am very into British history and intrigued by the setting into motion of the globalization we are still trying to come to terms with today. It's interesting to me that the “Victorian Era” is seen as being so repressive of women, and yet there was a female ruler. In what ways was she also repressed? How did she rationalize oppressing many cultures through colonization? I'd like to dig a little deeper into that over tea and scones with her.
Jjana: Maybe it's Carolyn Mallonee talking, but I'd actually love to have a dinner party with Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Kennedy and Michelle Obama. I'm fascinated with the power and influence they wielded (and Michelle still does) especially considering societal and cultural limitations.
I’d love to be a fly on the wall at that party! The play takes us from Carter’s administration through Obama’s first inauguration. Who is your favorite president and why?
Jjana: Teddy Roosevelt, because...Teddy Roosevelt.
Tom: Me too! He was the first President to deal with the corrupt nature of unfettered capitalism and, in doing so, helped plant the seeds of the 20th century middle class.
Caroline: When I was in third grade I was obsessed with all the presidents — we had a big picture book at home that I would pore over. After much deliberating, I decided that I would write my 3rd grade president report on Harry Truman. He looked kind in the portrait in the book — and a little like my grandfather — and I thought he would be good to pick because all the other kids in the class would go for the more flashy presidents. Learning more about history, I came to have immense admiration for FDR. So, while I think FDR is my favorite, I have a very fond spot in my heart for his successor.
Which current issue do you think is most likely to still be debated at family dinners 30 years from now?
Caroline: I think the ways in which technology hyper-individualizes us will result (and has already resulted) in a deeper craving for connection and community. I'll be interested to see how that yearning manifests itself in politics, and in the cultural zeitgeist. It worries me.
Jjana: Environmental issues. Unfortunately enough damage has been done that it's going to take a while to effectively grapple with it all. Hopefully the conversations in the future will be about how innovative policies put in place today actually made a difference.
Tom: The role of the Federal government in “legislating good behavior.”
The City of Conversation by Anthony Giardina and directed by Doug Hughes runs at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater January 29-March 6, 2016.
(Photo: Tom Wiggin, Margaret Colin, Caroline Hewitt, Todd Scofield and Jjana Valentiner in The City of Conversation at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.)