Why do people keep trying to kill Republicans? A new Brooklyn play tries to find the answer

There's a long tradition of killing Republicans. But why? Via history.com

There’s a long tradition of killing Republicans. But why? Via history.com

This 2016 election is coming down hard, and shows no signs of lightening up. Where the Democrats’ cultural conversation remains even-handed in the debate on a viable presidency between Clinton or Sanders (even if Sanders has the official NYC comedy vote), the Republican arena is largely consumed by the ever-increasing absurdity of its forerunning candidate, Donald Trump. We’re not going to spend any words on that guy, though you should see how he’s making the news lately. Instead, we’re going to tell you about a play that might shed some light on why we all hate him so much.

Killing Republicans is a new rock opera musical coming to Coney Island in April courtesy of Dick Zigun, the neighborhood’s unofficial (but more or less democratically chosen) mayor. The show marks Zigun’s long-rumored return to the theatre after years of focusing energies on his neighborhood’s revival through Coney Island USA (the not-for-profit arts organization that produces The Mermaid Parade, among other things). And the show hasn’t even opened yet, but it’s already summoned a tweetstorm of vitriolic responses and inspired pundit controversy online.

What’s all the fuss about? Brokelyn wanted to know, too, so we talked to Zigun about his fascination with the Republican party’s notoriety and got the skinny on this new musical. You may not find any explicit political endorsements for 2016 in Killing Republicans, but here’s Zigun’s official stance on Republicans: “You don’t have to marry one, but you really shouldn’t shoot them.”

Killing Republicans follows three central characters — Jodie Foster, a Rockabilly oil man and his Nigerian wife, an Afrobeat and Nollywood star — who embark on a transatlantic flight in a private jet. Over the course of 12 songs and with a few snags after takeoff, they do basically what we all do: get drunk and talk about Republicans.

Specifically, they talk (and sing) about Republican politicians throughout America’s history who have been shot at: Abraham Lincoln, Charles Sumner, William Mckinley, James Garfield, Ronald Reagan, Theodore Roosevelt and Gerald Ford.

______________

The recently-reopened Shooting Gallery, now an arts space. Fitting. (via Coney Island USA)

The reopened Shooting Gallery is now an arts space. Fitting. (via Coney Island USA)

Directed by Mabou Mines’ Terry O’Reilly and composed by guitarist Cristian Amigo, the show might be said to offer up an “exploded view” of the Republican party — and America’s partisanship/hatred towards it — over the centuries. It will be presented by Zigun’s experimental theatre company, The Funhouse Philosophers, at the recently-reopened Shooting Gallery Arts Annex (1214 Surf Avenue) next to the Coney Island Museum.

In case you’re wondering what qualifies Mayor Dick Zigun to write a musical, check out his credentials: Zigun holds an MFA from the Yale School of Drama, widely regarded as one of the top-tier performing arts institutions in the world. And while it may be his first rock opera, it’s certainly not his first rodeo. Zigun had plays produced on both coasts, most recently adapting an essay by Maxim Gorky for the stage in Brooklyn last year.

Notwithstanding his impressive accreditation, Zigun told us he’s always felt destined to write for audiences at the People’s Playground. “I grew up in Bridgeport, Connecticut. My grammar school was next to [the house] General Tom Thumb [lived in] and I helped out at the Barnum Festival, so I was basically a Barnum Scholar. Which made me a natural for [doing theatre in] Coney Island instead of on Broadway.”

______________

Zigun's political persona is a little theatrical to begin with. Gilly Youner / Flickr

Zigun has always been a little theatrical. Gilly Youner / Flickr

You won’t see men on stilts or bearded ladies in Killing Republicans, however. Far from being a circus sideshow, Zigun touts Republicans as a punk, heavy metal opera for the ages. Think The Who’s Tommy, American Idiot, et al. He described the music of his show as Sex Pistols and Blondie-inspired.

“If people like HBO’s Vinyl, they might like this too,” he said. “It’s definitely Rock N’ Roll.”

“It’s not about Donald Trump or Ted Cruz,” clarified Zigun. “Like Hamilton, it’s a history lesson and a musical. Why [do these guys] get shot at? What is it about the Republican party?”

Zigun shared his own theory about the incendiary nature of party (it’s similar to that of MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow): “Republicans are much more adept at playing hardball.”

______________

The show's poster has already inspired controversy. What do you think?

The show’s poster has already inspired controversy. What do you think?

The history of Killing Republicans dates back to December 19, 1998. Zigun started taking notes on his subjects right after then-President Bill Clinton was impeached. For mayor Zigun, the most curious aspect of American politics is its pendulum-like propensity, swinging in opposite directions even within the parties themselves.

“Did Lincoln free the slaves or did Johnson?” he asked. “Did political parties change over decades and totally flip their politics? Then Bush v. Gore: Who really got elected, who really won Florida? My frustration starts with that.”

As one of the show’s lyrics says, “Everything changes/nothing stays the same.”

Jodie Foster isn’t actually in the show, by the way. But her character is. When writing the play, Zigun wanted a motley band of brains whose musings on the subject of Republican politicians could elevate the show beyond basic satire and land us in educational, thought-inspiring territory.

“If you like Book of Mormon, you might enjoy the humor,” he said. “But I don’t want to write topical satire that goes out of date two weeks later. All of the characters enjoy privilege and status. They’re flying first-class. So there are bigger issues of class and power at play.”

______________

Coney Islanders love Dick. Tanenhaus / Flickr

Coney Island’s citizens weren’t afraid to picket for Zigun’s election. Tanenhaus/Flickr

Much like the scores of millennials who prefer arguing about the candidates to canvassing for them, the characters in Killing Republicans demonstrate curiosity about the subject of politics but a lack of engagement — as evidenced by one of the show’s song titles, “When We Googled Garfield.”

Zigun admitted that despite adopting a more neutral stance on politics, his show caters to an audience that probably isn’t going to vote Republican in this year’s election. He expressed a hope that Killing Republicans might inspire wide-reaching opinions and varying perspectives on this year’s election and the many more to come.

“I don’t like telling people who to vote for. But I did take the position of, ‘Don’t shoot ’em.'”

There’s no telling whether Zigun’s rock opera will inspire any new rhetoric in pundit-riddled publications or change a large number of voters’ minds since, as he joked, “it’s almost impossible to get New York press to Coney Island.”

Still, if you can bear a ride to the end of the train line, Killing Republicans promises at least 90 minutes of thought-provoking satire to defuse the otherwise strained political climate most of us spend our days worrying about. Best of all, tickets are just $15. Previews are just $10. Compared to the all the “hamiltons” it takes to see Hamilton, this history lesson is far more affordable.

And as for Zigun’s own political leanings? “I’m voting for Bernie.”

‘Killing Republicans’ opens on Friday, April 29 and runs through May 15. Previews begin April 22, with $10 tickets. The show runs approximately 90 minutes. Tickets are $15.