Live Bait Theater

Last fall the Clarence Thomas hearings were the hottest drama going. Expertly stage-managed by the media, they offered deception, high stakes, an attractive woman, confrontations, clowns (in the guise of senators), and sex. It was damn good theater, but now the show is over and we’re living in the denouement: a judge-for-life capable of affecting us all has been appointed.

What’s This in My Coke?: Poetic Justice, a collection of poems, short stories, and monologues written in response to the hearings and staged by Live Bait Theater, has one very simple problem: it’s not nearly as interesting as the hearings themselves. What could top that show? The production does, however, have a number of things to recommend it. It offers a wide spectrum of opinions from a range of authors: Michele Fitzsimmons, Barbara Kensey, John Ragir, and Michael Warr. The writing is strong and passionate and often darkly humorous. In one monologue, a man on the el sees a woman being groped by a male passenger but can’t seem to tell whether the woman’s passivity is frozen panic or some way of controlling the situation, and whether she’s getting some satisfaction out of it. In other pieces a “bad girl” wonders how she will ever find justice when it was denied a “good girl” like Anita Hill. A black man tries to find consolation in Thomas’s position on the bench: “At least he’ll look out for some of our interests.” Another man says he knows what Thomas was up to in his treatment of Hill. “He was slapping her down . . . like you do with a puppy. He was training her by using rudeness as a club.” The most powerful piece takes the form of an open letter to Thomas, explaining the differences between a real lynching and the “public lynching” he insisted on calling the hearings: at the end of a real lynching one is rarely awarded a seat on the highest court in the land.

Most of the opinions are pro-Hill, but there are a few opposing ones. In one monologue a black woman points out that Thomas wouldn’t have badgered Hill with the now-famous “pubic hair in my Coke” approach. “A brother,” she says triumphantly, “would have said ‘pussy hair’!” Another woman, also black, maintains that it wasn’t proper for Hill to air her dirty laundry in public.

Like the authors the four performers–Samuel L. Brooks, Fitzsimmons, Patrice Pitman, and Jordan Teplitz–represent male and female, black and white. They’re obviously committed to the material and solid performers; the problem is that they have no real drama to work with. Each delivers a monologue or poem, then sits down and waits for the next person to do one: there’s little happening on David Csicsko’s glitzy red, white, and blue set. When the performers do interact with one another, it looks forced and unnatural, as though directors Glenda Starr Kelley and John Ragir were trying to pump in a little drama. The show is a collection of well-written but familiar opinions and reactions, and though there’s some satisfaction in hearing them expressed with such conviction and flair, What’s This in My Coke? can’t hope to live up to the show last fall in Washington.