What do you get when you take Dean Cain, an actor famous for playing Superman on TV, and Kristy Swanson, the actress who was the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and give them the chance to play a couple of adulterous, wildly partisan FBI agents working at the highest levels of the Mueller Russiagate probe?
You get an outrageous play that had its conservative audience of 500 people howling at its premiere last Thursday at Washington’s Ronald Reagan Center.
Liberal comics may have had the field to themselves so far when it comes to Trump’s Washington. But they will now have to make room for a worthy counterpoint.
FBI Lovebirds: UnderCovers is part of a genre called verbatim theater. As written by conservative filmmaker Phelim McAleer, it’s a four-person play that relies on transcripts of the secret text messages exchanged by lovers Peter Strzok and Lisa Page (the FBI agents) as well as their congressional testimony under oath.
Strzok headed the FBI’s probe of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal, and he began its Russia probe. Page was top counsel to Andrew McCabe, the FBI’s No. 2 official and its acting director after Trump fired Director James Comey in May 2017. McCabe was later fired for unauthorized leaks to reporters and for “lacking candor under oath” in his interviews with Justice Department investigators.
Trump supporters have long suggested that the obvious hostility to Trump and favoritism toward Hillary Clinton displayed by Strzok and Page are evidence of an attempted “deep state” effort to undermine Trump. Strzok and Page are over-the-top critics of Trump in their texts, and Strzok, who instigated the FBI’s Russiagate probe during the 2016 campaign, spoke of having “an insurance policy” in case Trump won.
The Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General found no evidence that the couple’s political bias changed the outcome of the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server while in government. But the OIG did have an opinion on the couple’s use of FBI devices to send highly biased text messages. Strzok sneerily texted, for instance, “Just went to a Southern Virginia Walmart. I could SMELL the Trump support.” The inspector general concluded that their behavior “cast a cloud” over the FBI’s work and that the “damage” it caused “goes to the heart of the FBI’s reputation for neutral fact finding and political independence.”
Indeed, their bias was so all-consuming that it does make one wonder how they both ended up on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team. Page had completed her work with Mueller by the time the IG uncovered the Page–Strzok texts, but Strzok was still on the team; he was “reassigned” to the human-resources department when the texts came to light.
No wonder. Page describes Trump as an “enormous douche” and asks her lover, “Trump’s not ever going to become president, right?” Strzok replies, “No. No, he won’t. We’ll stop it.” Strzok later explained to congressional investigators that this text referred to “the American people” who would stop Trump. For her part, Page gave equally implausible answers when interviewed by Congress. One congressman noted that she had texted, “God trump is a loathsome human . . . omg he’s an idiot” to Strzok. “What did you mean by that?” the congressman asked. Her reply: “I don’t recall.”
Playing the adulterous FBI lovers, Cain and Swanson made the most of this material. Reading their text messages from binders on stage, they played the couple as smug, immature, smirking know-it alls, but Cain and Swanson also read aloud the couple’s emojis and exaggerated punctuation for added emphasis. Every reference to a text that ended with a “winky face” or “five exclamation points” was met with howls of laughter from the audience.
Cain plans to support President Trump in 2020 but told me after the play that he is a political independent who is “super liberal” on all the social issues. But he does wonder why Hollywood has so been so resistant to balancing its comic savaging of the Trump White House. “Tonight was sort of a Saturday Night Live thing,” he told the Washington Post at the play’s after-party last week. “Why aren’t they [SNL] making fun of Strzok and Page?”
Good question. Playwright Phelim McAleer, who along with his wife Ann McElhinney has produced several conservative films financed by Internet crowdsourcing, says the answer is obvious. “The Left dominates the arts to such an extent, they refuse to produce plays or movies even if they know they’ll be popular and the material is gold,” he told me. McAleer notes that the play’s original theater venue in Washington, D.C., tore up the contract with McAleer after they learned more about the content of FBI Lovebirds. “They claimed they had one angry threat and had to cancel, but we get threatening tweets by the hour.”
So what is the future of FBI Lovebirds? McAleer and McElhinney taped last week’s performance and plan to put it on YouTube for free viewing at some point.
But in the meantime, they are open to supporters sponsoring presentations in their local areas. No doubt the show will be enjoyable on computer screen, but here’s hoping that Cain and Swanson are able to put their Washington satire on the road. There’s nothing like watching great performers bring gales of laughter to an appreciative audience with their on-stage hijinks.
I wasn’t very familiar with “verbatim theater” productions before FBI Lovebirds, but with the right material, there’s no better way of communicating serious subjects in an entertaining manner.