Laura Bush Killed A Guy
by Ian Allen | directed by John Vreeke | starring Lisa Hodsoll
June 14 - July 8, 2018
at The Flea Theater, New York City
Laura Bush is an enigma wrapped in another enigma. She’s shy, beautiful, bookish, and in 1963, she blew through a stop sign and killed a guy. It was probably just an accident. Or maybe, just maybe… it was murder.
Join Mrs. Bush for this hilarious and heartfelt evening of real-life reminiscences: of her childhood in Texas (all lies!), of her marriage to George W. Bush (a sham!), and of their rapid ascent to the very pinnacle of world power (an abomination!). Don’t miss this highly-anticipated new work, which shines a light (headlights!) on the intersection of fact and fiction – a topic more timely than ever – as the memories fade, and the Bushes are starting to look like, well, maybe they weren’t so bad after all.Veteran DC director John Vreeke teams up with actress Lisa Hodsoll, who was nominated for a 2017 Helen Hayes Award for her stunning turn as Laura Bush in this one-woman show, for this special off-broadway production. A smart, surreal, and surprising reexamination of the Bush years, written by iconoclastic Klunch artistic director Ian Allen.
‘Laura Bush Killed a Guy’ Plumbs a First Lady’s Mysteries
Review by Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Times
In November 1963, 17-year-old Laura Welch ran a stop sign and crashed into another car, killing its teenage driver. Such accidents don’t usually end up on the animated series “Family Guy,” but that one did — because Laura Welch went on to marry George W. Bush and become first lady of the United States.
Now the cartoon’s joke serves as title and throughline for the sneakily engaging solo play “Laura Bush Killed a Guy,”
at the Flea Theater.
Ian Allen’s comedy is divided into three short sections, each one starting with Mrs. Bush (a nicely understated Lisa Hodsoll) lamenting the fact that judging by Google searches, her claims to fame are her Cowboy Cookies recipe and that fateful night in Texas. (For the sake of critical thoroughness, I helped myself to one of the free treats at the theater; it was tasty, even if the coconut-cowboy connection remains murky.)
The first go-round makes clear that this will not be a standard bio-play, as Mrs. Bush breezily explains that the accident was, in fact, a cover-up for a deliberate murder. Opening the second part, she contends she had been drunk; the third time is a matter-of-fact account of a driving mistake with tragic consequences.
Over the course of the show, which flits around non-chronologically, Mrs. Bush mixes fact and fiction, bringing to mind the “truthiness” Stephen Colbert coined to describe the Bush administration’s shaky relationship with reality.
For instance, we get diverging accounts of how Laura Welch met her future husband. Was it at a barbecue in Midland, Tex., followed by a first date at a miniature-golf course? Or did she ask a loud neighbor in a Houston apartment building to pipe it down, and he turned out to be the notorious George W. Bush?
“I’d wonder whether everything everyone said was true,” Laura dreamily recalls, as if picturing a lovably frat-boyish Prince Charming. “He couldn’t keep a job. He was an alcoholic, a womanizer, and just generally wild.”
The barbecue was real, but an encounter at the Chateaux Dijon complex sounds so much more fun. It also connects better to the real mystery at the heart of Mr. Allen’s play, which is economically directed by John Vreeke: What the heck did Laura Welch see in the rapscallion she married?
When they met, Mr. Bush was a glib, hard-partying intellectual lightweight, making him an unlikely soul mate for a self-described (in the show) “moderately sexy librarian” whose one vice was smoking. But every time Mrs. Bush speaks of George, her smile softens, her stare gets lost in a romantic haze.
A big issue is that while Mr. Allen brings up several of the events that punctuated the Bush administration, including the 2000 election and Sept. 11, he struggles to connect the private and public spheres. The Bushes are also presented as being pretty much ideology-free, which was certainly not the case.
But then deep down “Laura Bush Killed a Guy” is not a political satire but a romantic comedy about mutual redemption: “I’m the girl that sadness made,” Mrs. Bush concludes. “And then there’s George.” This may be the only time a mention of the 43rd president could elicit an “Awwww.
Review by Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Times
Political views aside, Laura Bush Killed a Guy
is a fascinating and provocative entertainment.
Review by Darryl Reilly in Off-Broadway
If you Google my name, and, when you start to type my name into Google, the first suggestion is Cowboy Cookies. The recipe. Laura Bush Cowboy Cookies. They are forever associated with my name. The second suggestion is killed a guy. Laura Bush killed a guy…It comes from The Family Guy. I don’t care for the show, but George loooooves it and watches it all the time and laughs and laughs.
With her honeyed and smoky Texan vocal inflections, wearing a short-haired lustrous brown wig and costume designer Rhonda Key’s gleaming trim white suit, actress Lisa Hodsoll is phenomenal as former First Lady Laura Bush in author Ian Allen’s kaleidoscopic solo play, Laura Bush Killed a Guy.
For 95 mesmerizing minutes, Ms. Hodsoll gives a smashing performance that transcends mere impersonation or campy replication. Looking and sounding like Mrs. Bush, with her twinkling eyes and beaming presence, Hodsoll’s characterization is a dazzling amalgam of comedy, emotion and depth. An only child, she and her parents went on a mission:
I remember a powerful feeling of pleasure, a combination of joy and relief, as the big iron gates parted and I heard the wonderful sound of acorns popping under the tires as Daddy pulled up the winding driveway of the orphanage. Mother took my hand and we met with the staff, and they walked us through a labyrinthine series of halls, where we met and sat and talked with many of the children there, little boys and girls, who I liked and who seemed to like me.
Weaving well-researched biographical facts with detours into fantasy, Mr. Allen creates an enthralling portrait that is written with elegance, slyness and wit. Divided into three acts and structured as non-linear reminiscences and observations the play covers crucial events with theatrical flair.
Upon entering the contained theater that has two rows of seats on each of its three sides, the audience is greeted with a platter of cookies that are free to take.
Kim Deane’s simple yet striking set is a small round platform on which is a vintage wingchair. Adjacent is a black cloth-covered high table with a flower in a glass vase and a glass of water. A framed photograph of George W. Bush strategically hangs on the wall.
Hodsoll enters and addresses the audience directly as she does throughout. We learn that her recipe for Cowboy Cookies (chocolate, oats and nuts) was voted on twice by readers of Family Circle Magazine’s Presidential Cookie Contest as the best one, against opponents Tipper Gore and Teresa Heinz Kerry. She then recites the recipe.
We are now transported to a surreal universe by lighting designer David C. Ghatan and sound designer Lucas Zarwell’s dynamic contributions. The vignettes are punctuated by sharp blackouts, searing brightness and pulsing musical interludes. Stark titled projections herald the different acts and names of figures spoken of.
John Vreeke’s direction is highly aesthetic as he has Hodsoll meticulously placed, standing in multiple positions, at varying distances from the audience as well as periodically sitting. Mr. Vreeke’s unison of his rigorous physical staging, guidance of Hodsoll and employment of the technical elements results in a stimulating presentation on every level.
The production was first presented in the spring of 2018 in Washington, D.C by The Klunch, a theater company with a diverse membership that’s based there.
The play’s pivotal episode takes place on November 6, 1963. 17-year old Laura was driving with a girlfriend to see Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds in Midland, Texas. She ran a stop sign, striking another car and the driver was killed. He was her friend and high school classmate Michael Dutton Douglas. She and her friend received minor injuries and she was not criminally charged for the accident. While working as a school librarian, she met George W. Bush at mutual friends’ barbecue in July 1977 and they were married in November of that year.
When George began his 2000 bid for President, I decided to reread Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” as a kind of silly in-joke with myself. The feelings I felt on, along the campaign trail were pretty similar, I assumed, to what it must be like to watch your family brutally murdered in your living room.
Other major occurrences discussed are the weird circumstances of Election night 2000, a somber recounting of 9/11, and a defense of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. There are irreverent takes on important figures. Barbara Bush gets a scathing assessment as we learn that her diminutive Bar is actually taken from the name of a family horse. The “hungry” Hillary Clinton was a poor decorator of the White House and due to one of her hairstyles resembled Benjamin Franklin. “Poppy,” George Herbert Walker Bush comes off as benign. Her twins Jenna and Barbara get a loving but hard-edged treatment. “Dubya,” George Walker Bush, her husband is “so likeable” and is rendered as a reformed good The Petrold boy with a great deal of romantic affection.
Crestfallen upon learning that a recent “Which American First Lady do you most admire?” poll had her at 5%, behind Melania Trump’s 12%, “Really? Considering everything, don’t you wish we were back?”
Political views aside, Laura Bush Killed a Guy is a fascinating and provocative entertainment.
I’m a woman who wears pearls well. I’m a smoker. I’m a moderately sexy librarian. I’m a woman who says “I love you, Bushie” as she kisses her husband in the morning. I’m Mrs. George W. Bush. I’m the First Lady of the United States of America. I’m a cultural icon… I even managed to arrange for a trip to Afghanistan. I’ve been back twice since. You wouldn’t believe how heavy burkas are.
Review by Darryl Reilly in Off-Broadway, Theater Scene
"You have to see this show. Really. You have to."
It is so well put together and you will have a really good time.
Review by Margret Echeverria
As the child of two Southerners who was born and raised in the Midwest, I feel confident in telling you that Midwesterners and Southerners are both great story tellers. An Iowan, however, will start a tale with bold titillating truths. A Texan will weave the truth with a little fantasy first, teasing the listener along, picking at perceptions, until the truth peeks out at the end of the tale like a the spirit of a dead Spanish American war hero shouting, Boo! Ian Allen‘s new play, Laura Bush Killed a Guy, gives us LIsa Hodsoll as the First Lady who is one of these Texan story weavers peeling away charming pleasantries over and under her truth eventually getting us to the tender heart of the matter while thoroughly entertaining us along the way — and feeding us Cowboy Cookies, which she convinced us to bake and bring ourselves to share.
I walked into the performance space at The Flea Theater in Tribeca and was intrigued by the tray of cookies at the entrance which varied in color and size because different audience members had made them from the Laura Bush Family Circle prize winning recipe in their own kitchens. I had one and it was indeed delicious. Savoring the taste of nuts and chocolate with oats, it is as if we are in Laura Bush’s living room and she has invited us in to chat. In a slim fitting costume designed by Rhonda Key, Laura Bush (Lisa Hodsoll) is dressed in a modest white skirt suit with, of course, pearls. She smiles like she has been expecting us all day and we can all relax and be ourselves here.
Did Laura Bush kill a guy? Well, yes. Yes, she did. Who was he? Why did she kill him? Why do we still like her so much when we have so many reasons to be so suspicious of her moral disposition? The company she keeps, for one thing, is highly suspect. She clearly grew up privileged. She does not seem to want to challenge the public intellectually. When it comes to Laura Bush, historically we have been fed a picture of a rather vapid woman for whom many of us may have felt sorry. Allen’s writing gratifies so many of these questions while Hodsoll completely disarms us. Director John Vreeke allows Hodsoll’s character to sweetly let us know that she is aware of exactly what our preconceptions may be and she gets it, but we are in for some tough revelations. The shell begins to open crack by crack until all the beautiful feathers come tumbling out.
Man, I had some serious judgements about the Bushes. I used to rage at my family members who voted for them. I didn’t want those wars. I believed 9-11 could have been prevented had the Bush administration not been so lazy or even totally down with it. And maybe all of that is still justified reasoning, but what got lost for me back then – was it really nearly twenty years ago when it all started? – was that these people are people with blood in their veins and parents and childhoods and some circumstances that really were beyond their control. Circumstances that shaped hearts and broke hearts and burdened spirits with guilt and shame. And Hodsoll animates all of this for us from Laura Bush’s life with the joy sprinkled in, too, and acknowledgement of all that was so crazy and even a couple of family skeletons and White House secrets. The bit about Ladybird’s visit to the White House had me in a slippery puddle of hysteria and self-consciousness at my audacity to laugh.
This is satire for sure. A healthy dose of it. But there is no bitterness in it. We see very clearly that it is the human condition to make the best decisions we can given the information we have at the time. We can choose to wallow in shame as we look back on those decisions and admonish ourselves for the results … or we can forgive a little and maybe even find entertainment in the memory of our lives and what we thought at the time . . . . or even congratulate ourselves for surviving those wounds and living to drink another martini, smoke another cigarette and escape into another good novel. Laura Bush just adores a good book.
And speaking of good books, this show is so well written. Hodsoll appears often to be utterly spontaneous and she does deftly improvise a few times in the show because she can — her tool box matches the brilliance of her author’s, especially when responding genuinely to audience reactions in this intimate space — but upon examining the script, I saw that many of the real juicy vulnerable moments I felt penetrate my skin were the result of just damn good writing.
You have to see this show. Really. You have to. It is so well put together and you will have a really good time. Bring me back one of those cookies, won’t you?
Review by Margret Echeverria
Laura Bush Killed a Guy at The Flea will have you laughing out loud,
then shaking your head and gritting your teeth...
Under John Vreeke’s astutely understated direction, the uncanny Lisa Hodsoll,
once again stars in the current solo show.
Review by Deb Miller
Yes, she really did, and Washington DC-based theater collective The Klunch brings its acclaimed original production of Laura Bush Killed a Guy, keenly written by company Artistic Director Ian Allen, to The Flea Theater for its razor-sharp New York premiere. Presented by Roger Sanders and Dana Scott Galloway, the true event from the early life of the former First Lady provides the basis for an often factual, sometimes surreal, and always sardonic parody of her little-known background in Texas and her years in the White House under the George W. Bush administration, gleaned from her 2010 memoir Spoken from the Heart, highlighted in online searches of her name, and embellished by the playwright’s acerbic imagination.
Structured in three acts (Perdition; Sedition; and Contrition), the eponymous character (augmented by Lucas Zarwell’s sound and David C. Ghatan’s lighting and back-wall projections) presents three varying accounts of the car accident that took the life of another high-school student, when the seventeen-year-old Laura ran a stop sign while talking to her friend and listening to Elvis on the car radio. Interweaving the central story with an array of autobiographical recollections, and giving it about as much earnest consideration as she does her sweet prize-winning recipe for “Cowboy Cookies” (samples of which the audience is invited to prepare and to taste), we are left to decide if it was a family-based murder plot, a teenage revenge killing, or simply a deadly incident of distracted driving that was whitewashed in the police records and resulted in no charges against her (perhaps due to her father’s wealth and position in town).
Under John Vreeke’s astutely understated direction, the uncanny Lisa Hodsoll, who received a 2018 Helen Hayes-Award nomination for her tour-de-force performance in the DC production, once again stars in the current solo show. Everything about her and her brilliantly-controlled portrayal screams white privilege, from her ever-so-tasteful ivory-toned suit and pearls, beige heels and gold pin (costume by Rhonda Key) to her practiced smile, polished demeanor, and prepared comments, offering politicized excuses, predictable denials, and the preposterous suggestion that “We were good people. We did the best we could. . . And really, if you could have us back . . . Wouldn’t you?” [Nope. Even by comparison with our present administration, that’s definitely a tough sell in NYC, especially for those of us who lived through 9/11]. With a spot-on southern accent, Hodsoll addresses us directly in the intimate space (fitted by set designer Kim Deane with an upholstered sidechair on an elevated platform and a photo of “Dubya” hanging on the wall behind), recounting anecdotes from her past, offering telling opinions about her family and contemporaries, nodding and gesturing, making eye contact and gazing off distantly, while running through a range of feigned emotions – consternation and distaste, wounded pride and aggravation, amusement, attraction, and steadfast devotion to her husband – before turning on a dime back to that flat fašade of the affected smile and calculated tone of the groomed politico and the good wife.
The Klunch’s provocative production of Laura Bush Killed a Guy at The Flea will have you laughing out loud, then shaking your head and gritting your teeth at its mock nostalgia for the ‘good old days’ of the Bush years and “the intersection of fact and fiction” in the dubious recounting of history that it so mordantly examines. At least that’s how I remember it . . .
Review by Deb Miller
Review by Joe Meyers
Hearst CT News Blogs
Ian Allen’s “Laura Bush Killed a Guy” finds a sweet spot between political satire and one of those evening-with biographical dramas that have been written about powerful women such as Ann Richards or Sue Mengers.
The premise is that we are spending 90 minutes with the former first lady as she tells her life story and makes three attempts to explain the vehicular homicide she was responsible for at the age of 17.
As Laura tells us in the opening moments, if you Google her name the first thing that comes up is a recipe for “Cowboy Cookies.” The second suggestion is “killed a guy” – the 1963 accident in which Laura ran a stop sign in Midland, Texas, and killed a young man she knew named Mike Douglass.
Allen starts each of the three acts with Laura telling us a version of the accident, the first being a wild Oliver Stone-style murder plot that is contradicted by two subsequent accounts that seem closer to the truth.
The accident is the one jarring note in the first lady’s placid public persona which has emphasized her belief in the importance of literacy – she studied library science – and the role she played as a stabilizing force in the life of her husband (Laura helped to counter gossip about his drinking and drug taking as a younger man).
Most of the time, Laura maintained what was perhaps the lowest public profile of a first lady since Pat Nixon was in the White House. She was a stark contrast to her activist predecessor, Hillary Clinton.
“The job of the First Lady isn’t political, it’s symbolic,” Laura tells us. “My job, my real job, was to look nice and go from tragedy to tragedy, giving sympathy and comfort along the way.”
Much of the comedy in the play comes from Laura’s sly digs at the Bush family, especially her mother-in-law who she blames for much of W.’s “wildness” throughout his life. She is also gleeful in the retelling of jokes at Barbara’s expense. It’s fun to watch the illusion of this famously careful public figure letting her hair down and filling us in on what she really thought of the Clintons and other powerful politicians.
Laura confides that politics drove her two daughters away: “From congressman, to governor, to President, it was tears and screaming and hurtful accusations and, finally, the complete abandonment of our lives. I’ve seen stories that claim they hate us. That’s certainly not true. They just hate everything about us.”
Allen does a masterful job of shifting from comedy to drama in scenes such as Laura’s account of 9/11 when her planned speech on Capitol Hill was suddenly rendered irrelevant and she found herself spending hours hidden away in a safe room with Sen. Ted Kennedy until the government got a handle on the terrorist attack.
The playwright and director John Vreeke found an awesome collaborator in actress Lisa Hodsoll, who is able to walk the very fine line between biographical portrait and send-up that is in the script. The way Hodsoll draws us in close at some moments, and then keeps us at arm’s length during others, is reminiscent of the finely shaded performance Philip Baker Hall gave as Richard Nixon in the solo play and film “Secret Honor.”
Near the end, Laura gets the last laugh on us and modern American history when she says, “We were good people. We did the best we could. And really, if you could have us back…wouldn’t you?”
(“Laura Bush Killed a Guy” is playing through July 8 at the Flea Theater, 20 Thomas St. Photos by Joan Marcus)
Review by Joe Meyers
JAN EWING REVIEWS
LAURA BUSH KILLED A GUY
It seems no time at all since Laura Bush and her husband, George, were in the White House. At the time, as most everyone knows, Mr. Bush wasn’t popular in New York City. When the Republican National Convention convened for his second nomination in 2004, throngs gathered every day around Madison Square Garden, screaming for his ouster, and demanding everything under the sun, to the point where it became impossible to zero in on ANY specific complaint. Because of this, the City had to build a bridge across Eighth Avenue, from the helipad on the famous Post Office across the street (zip code 10001), to the Garden, which was said to have cost taxpayers $3,000,000, so that George and Mrs. Bush would not have to actually mingle with anyone in the streets. We were furious.
The point being, we weren’t very nice to Mr. Bush. He left office under a cloud, in spite of having accomplished a number of good things; the fall of Saddam Hussein, a great reduction of AIDS in Africa, spearheading a successful attack on malaria. When Laura Bush asks, in this excellent, informative play, “Wouldn’t you like to have us back?” the audience applauded. Yes, the appalling performance of the presidency’s current occupant probably prompted that, but it does go to show us that many things should be reevaluated in light of subsequent events.
I’m glad I saw this play, because it has helped me appreciate George Bush. Now I understand why so many people used to say he’d be fun at a backyard barbecue. As a life-long Democrat (my Granny was from Missouri, and, as a girl in high school, she danced with Harry Truman, so what choice did I have?), I could hardly approve of him while he was in office. Indeed, I remember Mrs. Bush more favorably. Her stance on reading and education always seemed refreshing, particularly when compared to the muck that Karl Rove’s political machinations were foisting upon us, and her public positions were intelligent and well thought out. She was absolutely a lady, a concept that seems to be unfashionable today for reasons which I do not appreciate. That is the Laura Bush presented in this play. Interestingly, she did kill a guy in 1968, in an automobile crash when she was barely seventeen. But, she was a good girl, as she says, and the authorities judged the terrible event to be accidental. It took her a long time to move past it.
Lisa Hodsoll is remarkable as Laura Bush. She is immediately sympathetic, warm, and very funny. She wears her humanity on her sleeve, and, in this interesting narrative, her honesty regarding her husband and their relationship is more than moving. The running time of this play is eighty-five minutes. During that time, Ms. Hodsell did not strike a false note. Her interactions with the audience were natural and perfectly timed, and her intelligent understanding of the character gave us an ordinary person who considered her position in the White House to be a responsibility and an honor. As she says in the play, she and George are basically good people, and they did their best. In retrospect, and in light of the current antagonism and hate that Washington is tweeting into the world, I agree with that. Mr. Bush was simply out of his depth. None of the bad things that happened were deliberate; not always forgivable, but not deliberate. And, yes, indeed, under the circumstances, I think many of us would be glad to have them back.
Finally, a brief comment on John Vreeke, the play’s director. After leaving college, he was hired and trained by one of the finest director’s working in regional theater at that time. Subsequently, he went on to a distinguished career; among other venues, at the Alley Theater in Houston, as a television producer on CBS’s “Northern Exposure,” and finally at a number of fine theaters in Washington, D.C. For some reason, I don’t know whether anything else he has done has played in New York City. But, he apparently knows what he’s doing. In Laura Bush, the lights went on and off, Ms. Hodsoll knew her lines, and she didn’t walk into any of the furniture. Kudos for that Mr. Vreeke. Let us know the next time you’re going to be here.
by Ian Allen
Produced by The Klunch at the Flea Theater in NYC
Presented by Roger Sanders and Dana Scott Galloway
Starring Lisa Hodsoll
Directed by John Vreeke
Lighting by David C. Ghatan
Costumes by Rhonda Key
Sound by Lucas Zarwell
Set by Kim Deane
Stage Management by Elizabeth Ramsay
Review by Jan Ewing