Move over, Hamilton! The hottest theatrical political history re-imagining is taking place at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas, Texas this weekend. The show? An immersive experience centered around a broad-shouldered man in a MAGA hat weeping in a jail cell. He wears an orange jumpsuit and sits in front of a chalkboard that reads “WHERE IS EVERYONE?” His alleged crime? Loving freedom too much.
Attendees at the annual conference were greeted with this unusual performance art on the floor of the Dallas Hilton Anatole. Journalist Laura Jedeed captured video of the whole situation and tweeted that she “receive[d] a silent disco headset that plays harrowing testimony from people arrested for participating in [the January 6 insurrection].” She noted in a follow up tweet that the “guy NEVER broke character” and cried for half an hour straight.
The first thing I did upon seeing this was search Backstage.com for a casting call in Dallas for a “crying man,” but, unfortunately, that search yielded nothing. Turns out our leading man is Brandon Straka, founder of the #WalkAway campaign, a movement to promote Kelly Clarkson’s 2004 smash hit. Just kidding, it’s a crusade meant to encourage Democrats to #WalkAway from the political left and towards the GOP. Straka participated in the January 6th insurrection, but got a plea deal for cooperating with the FBI and naming other conspirators. Maybe this performance is some form of survivor’s guilt processing therapy?
I have limited theater critic experience, but my best guess is that this is a commentary on how unfairly these patriots have been treated. If that’s the piece’s goal, I have to admit it’s giving mixed messages. First of all, conservatives love to wax poetic about the threat of crisis actors, yet that’s exactly what they’ve put on display.
I also don’t fully understand the signage “WHERE IS EVERYONE?” I tried searching for that phrase in connection with January 6th, but all I got was a December 2020 Facebook comment on a post about supporting Trump on the 6th. A woman, Diana Smith Raihle, asked amongst the 551 comments, “where is everyone meeting?” We love a logistical coup queen, but that comment doesn’t feel central enough to carry the message of this piece across.
Then there is the tallying on the chalkboard. I presume it is of days the incarcerated insurrectionists have spent in prison, though it also could be the amount of comrades Straka threw under the bus to land this flashy role. Give him all the Tonys!
General tickets for CPAC cost $295 and this performance will run till the end of the conference on August 7th at the Dallas Hilton Anatole. Audience members will be alerted at showtime if an understudy will be playing the part of “crying man.”