“I’m Gonna Kill the President!” takes audiences out of their comfort zone
By Christina Campodonico
In spite of, or perhaps because of its audacious name, “I’m Gonna Kill the President! A Federal Offense,” is the kind of play that cloaks itself in mystery.
The work, which first appeared during the Iraq War resistance of the George W. Bush years and is back for a Southern California run during the Trump era, is the creation of anonymous playwright Hieronymous Bang and his guerilla theater troupe Imagination Liberation Front. Every show takes place in a secret location. And those bold enough to attend are asked to make sure they are not followed — at least that’s what HB tells me over the phone in his vaguely Southern accent.
“It’s a lot of fun, and it’s going to be outside your comfort zone,” he says.
So on Sunday night, I slipped out of my house — leaving only word of my whereabouts with my editor should things get dicey — and headed to the corner of 11th Street and San Vicente in Santa Monica to meet my fellow comrades for this clandestine theatrical event.
Getting there early, I parked my car on a dark corner and waited for signs that I was in the right place.
I notice a couple sitting inside one SUV eating or talking and a black town car with darkened windows parked behind them. As the appointed meeting time approaches, the black car, which looks like the kind an undercover agent might drive, revs to life and drives away — spooky. Then I see about a dozen people gathered across the street — I know I’m in the right place.
A young woman with braids, wearing army green cargo pants, greets us and tells us to turn on the flashlights on our phones and check in with the man in red suspenders up ahead. We walk about a block before arriving at a private residence with gates swung wide open. The man in red suspenders records us with his phone, asking us to say our names and whether or not we are with law enforcement. (You begin to wonder if you should be just as afraid of these guerillas as they are of the police.)
After that security checkpoint, we’re asked to surrender our phones at the makeshift box office.
Having arrived at our final destination safely, my sense of unease shifts into a calmer register. There’s tea and coffee here, a playful orange-and-black backdrop sets the stage for the evening’s activities, and a young woman welcomes requests for songs to play on her saw and bow.
What unfurls next is an absurdist whirlwind of sketch comedy and political satire, as an anonymous band of madcap players aids the leads — an impressionable college student named Fifi and an earnest revolutionary named Skip — in a hair-brained plot to capture, and yes, maybe even off the president. There’s a sleeping bag with a monstrous grin and googly eyes that gobbles up the actors or stuns them into submission, and a shape-shifting character known as “The Man” who attempts to steer Fifi off her radical course. (I’m told “The Man” is Hieronymous Bang by one audience member intimate with the show, but he sounds nothing like the person I talked to over the phone.)
It all leads up to a pivotal call to the White House — the audience is invited to shout “I’m Gonna Kill the President!” into a cell phone — and a harrowing climax with some very Orwellian vibes. Let’s just say it feels like the government is watching you, but you can’t quite be sure if that part is real or part of some elaborate theatrical ruse. (Though the number Skip dials is indeed the White House switchboard.)
Either way, you can’t help but feel a little shaken, wondering if you’ve been implicated in an actual crime (threatening the president is a felony), or merely a willing accomplice to theater’s oldest trick — suspension of disbelief. You may walk away feeling a little paranoid and, perhaps, a lot more thankful for your First Amendment rights — to peaceably assemble, speak your mind and participant in such a farcical play as this.
At least they’re all intact … for now.
“I’m Going to Kill the President! A Federal Offense” happens Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 17 and 18, somewhere in Santa Monica. Call (209) 375-0411 for reservations and instructions. Tickets are $10 to $20; cash only. Follow @BangHieronymous on Twitter or visit facebook.com/imaginationliberation for updates.