Actors ‘breathe life’ into the Mueller Report to cut through the numbness of 24-hour news
By Bliss Bowen
The other day a friend of a friend tweeted a funny-except-it’s-not list of presidential transgressions pushed out of the news by migrant children in border camps, whose claim on the news cycle was co-opted by a cabinet scandal that barely registered thanks to a billionaire presidential pal oozing radioactive sleaze, who was blasted off headlines by racist remarks made by — yes — the president.
That vicious circle sums up one week, maybe 10 days. Scroll back through the calendar to March … January … November … it still applies. The difference is, we now have the Mueller Report. That shifts the framework around everything.
Another friend was recently asked by two different doctors why they’re tense and depressed; when they answered “Trump,” both doctors nodded and said, “I’m hearing a lot of that from patients.” Other colleagues, from across the political spectrum, vent their exhaustion from this administration’s barrage of outrageous spectacle. Frustrated, angry, feeling powerless, some are tuning out.
Which may explain why, since the anxiously awaited, taxpayer-funded and concisely damning Mueller Report was made public April 18, many have not read it.
So artists in L.A., New York and elsewhere are giving marathon readings to make it more accessible. Monday and Tuesday, actor and Not Man Apart Artistic Director John Farmanesh-Bocca is curating a two-night Mueller Report Read-a-Thon at West L.A.’s Odyssey Theatre with 50 film and stage actors each giving 20-minute readings.
“The reason to do this, I believe, is this: Before it was released, Barr deflated this football. This is our country, we are its artists, and it’s our job to fill that football back up with air,” Farmanesh-Bocca says. “We’re supposed to breathe life back into this thing.
“Barr got in front of it and deflated it with a brief, puerile answer to a very complex, intense set of facts about our government, about our country being interfered with, about the obstruction of the finding out of information. [The report] goes out of its way to NOT exonerate, but because of his brief two-page statement, Barr gave the president all he needed to say, ‘I’ve been exonerated.’ … When Justin Amash came out [against the president], people were surprised there was anything negative in it. Congressmen in Washington have not read the full report yet.”
As Farmanesh-Bocca notes, an alarming chunk of the populace remains uninformed about the report’s contents, even after Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III pushed aside his famous reticence to remind the world in a May 29 statement “there were multiple, systematic efforts” to interfere with the 2016 elections that deserve “the attention of every American,” and that “if we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.” Pointedly, they did not.
Why so little interest in reading information millions want to know? It isn’t an issue of money or access. The 444-page report (plus appendixes) can be downloaded or streamed for free at justice.gov/storage/report.pdf, archive.org/details/muellerreport, muellerreportaudiobook.com, stitcher.com/podcast/mueller-report-audio and elsewhere. The Mueller Report has spent 11 weeks on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list, and a veritable cottage industry is publishing the book with and without commentaries. It is hefty, with numerous redactions, yet remarkably absorbing and clear for a government document.
Readers asked to “breathe life” into its words at the Odyssey include Apollo Dukakis, Frances Fisher, Arye Gross, Gregg Henry, L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz, Shishir and Bahni Kurup, Dan Lauria, Sharon Lawrence, Culture Clash’s Richard Montoya, Laraine Newman, Michael Nouri, Mindy Sterling, Brenda Strong, and Sabra Williams. Both nights will be wrapped up by spoken word artist Steve Connell, a good friend Farmanesh-Bocca chose for his ability to roll with the flow and close each volume “with a kind of battle cry.”
The hope is it will cut through the numbness settling across people like war zone mind fog. We aren’t sure who to trust, Farmanesh-Bocca acknowledges, partly because of the “constant barrage of information,” and nuance gets lost in efforts to bridge political divides. Past generations weren’t confused by “alternative facts.”
“There’s no up and down anymore. It’s just, what’s going to serve the ideology,” Farmanesh-Bocca says. “But we still have people in public service, like Mueller, who is a Republican, who will strive to lay out facts; and hope that people are still interested in facts.
“The language is so damning in any 10 pages of this entire report it will make you go whoa, whoa. … Facts still have to matter. This, coming from a group of people who work in illusion! [Laughs.] Our illusion doesn’t work if you’re living in an illusion. We’ve got an election coming up and, God willing, we right the course, but then this is going to continue. You’ve got to know what’s going on.”
The Mueller Report Read-a-Thon happens from 1 to 9 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday (July 22 and 23) at Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A. Audience members may come and go throughout each event. Call (310) 477-2055, ext. 2, or visit odysseytheatre.com for venue information.