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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

The Sovereign Statement

Or: The Game gets Vicious when the Stakes are Small

“All Nations are Narratives”, states Bulal Dardai the creator, writer and puppet master of The Sovereign Statement. Most nations have grand and gilded narratives shared by millions but some, so called micro-nations, are created when a small group or even one person strikes out on their own to make a new country to their own liking. These tiny countries set up constitutions, inheritable titles, even modes of currency in an effort to proclaim to the world, “We are here, we are us, and in this place what we say goes”. With the help of Phil Ridarelli, dubbed protagonist of the plot, and a willing and wacky ensemble, Dardai joins the dozens of micro-nations around the world being declaring the Neo-Futurist playing space it’s own independent nation, with the audience now it’s citizenry.

If you’ve heard of Sleep No More, it’s the same flavor of interactive theatre but more concrete and directed (it also provides you with a comeback and comparison for all those money’d, New York friends of yours who won’t talk stopping about Sleep No More.) The Hundred Minute history of the Nation unfolds in the style of a bizarre choose-thine-own adventure set up: the audience is expected to vote on crucial (and trivial) matters in its rise and fall. Often the power plays of the actor-ocracy will shuffle the audience, cut them in half, and deal out their decisions like a deck of cards, but the illusion of choice is there and strong, so come prepared to move, to cheer, to revolt, and to generally participate. If you don’t participate than you have failed at democracy, and you don’t want to be accused of failing at democracy, do you?

In true Neo-futurist fashion we are reminded for every one of the hundred minutes that this is a play, a figment made flesh, not some peculiar magical reality. There is much talk of lines and revisions, new drafts of the script are brought in and chucked out, characters are exiled backstage, and urgency to secure the nation survives the final curtain are little pinches to ensure we don’t mistake anything for what it is. This self-awareness allows for leaps of logic and titanic sized gestures that would seem over-blown in a realistic drama, and sometimes we are painfully aware that a long drawn out dialog or bit of improve is just there to wide up events off stage to a breaking point, but the story is compelling, the logic delightfully whimsical, and the devil in the details most diligent. For a play, The Sovereign Statement has colored itself with a lot of real world bureaucratic truth, from the irritated impatience of the Immigration Agents who usher the audience into the country, to the interchangeability of most government officials, from the lowest flunky to the big chief.

Ridarelli, charms us with his bumbling but full fisted grasps at living up to his potential as “protagonist”, full of gives and outlandish gestures, cultivating paranoia and munificence like two beloved House Plants. He also has a fantastic dance number. Yes, it’s that kind of show. Jen Ellison, who smartly steps into the roll of Ridarelli’s chief advisor is superbly steely, at turns dangerous and ridiculous. And then there is Dardai himself, who very quietly and seriously outlines his plans for the play and serves some of the easily graspable and deadly eloquent political theory you’ll ever hear: about the fate of nations, the part citizens play in them, and the nature of leadership. The man should be a columnist, the jester of Washington, serving truth to power, if he wasn’t so dished good at writing plays.

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