IvankaPlay at Edinburgh Fringe 2019: naïve, lazy satire
My main thought throughout IvankaPlay was ‘God, this must have been hard to write.’
Ivanka Trump is somewhat an enigma – nobody really knows what she’s thinking or what her game-plan is – but Charles Gershman’s script attempts to explain the woman behind the tabloid headlines. The set is bare, but as expected: a clear plastic chair sits on top of a neon American flag, with a clear umbrella, huge handbag and Starbucks cup nestled beside it. Lana Del Rey plays in the background.
When McLean Peterson walks into the room, she’s wearing a ‘cantaloupe’, figure-hugging dress and actually comes-off a lot like Ivanka herself. She tells us that we’re in the White House now, and she’s waiting for an impromptu meeting with her father about the migrant crisis. Whilst she’s forced to wait for his prior meeting to finish, she reflects on her relationship with Donald, her husband Jared Kushner, and the political world that she’s found herself thrust into.
Ultimately, there were one or two things that set alarm bells off. Firstly, there’s a big-ish bit on climate change, plastic straws and the Paris Accord that really is quite politically naïve and ignores the issues that actually surrounded America’s withdrawal. As a result, the piece begins to feel like it was written by an ignorant student with no real knowledge of world politics. It would’ve been much more beneficial to lean into Trump’s own quasi-denial of climate change as a result of human activity.
There’s also a whole load of motivation given for both Ivanka and Donald Trump’s actions that is completely imagined. The play suggests that its protagonist is fickle and stupid – motivated to end gun violence because of a threat against her own children, but forgetful of the issue as soon as she’s promised another economic asset from her father – when it’s not clear at all if this is the case. It suggests that Trump doesn’t want his daughter’s input on any issue, despite her being his advisor, and also that he doesn’t believe in the causes he supports, just in the power of various lobbies. All this could be true, but the play feels like one seismic inference after another.
IvankaPlay is more of an amalgamation of stereotypes and SNL-style parodies of its character than an actual human study. This Ivanka is a dumb, clothes-obsessed blonde with no real power and no real soul either – it’s an image painted by an ignorant, at times misogynistic media which doesn’t understand or even seek to understand a woman who has been painted unjustifiably as a pariah. And, every time this play begins to impose any intelligence or insight on her part, it’s swiftly robbed by something inconsequential: she touches a gun, or is offered a new dress, or a golf course on the West Coast. If Gershman aimed to ‘bring humanity’ to this character, he’s absolutely failed – in IvankaPlay she’s nothing more than the sketch we already know.
There are stabs at ‘insight’ on several issues – gun violence, climate change, the migrant crisis – but there’s no actual insight, just an assertion that ‘my God I wouldn’t want that to happen to my child but daddy needs the money from x conservative lobby or news organisation so I guess we can’t do anything’. Even more worryingly, there are almost constant attempts at comedy which reliably fall flat. Peterson is so close to us on the stage, and she’s such a welcome presence that there are a few polite laughs, even though they feel forced at genteel gunpoint.
What I’m trying to say – and maybe I’m not saying it too well – is that this is obviously not an accurate show. Although we don’t really know that much about Ivanka Trump and her inner thoughts, this lazy caricature of obvious influences and materialism is quite clearly not who Ivanka Trump is and what she actually believes – as a result, then, what’s the point of this piece?
I feel kind of bad saying all this because McLean Peterson is absolutely superb in the role – we absolutely believe that she’s Ivanka, and her fantastic stage presence carries this show past the hour mark without making us yawn. Her magnetism and skill will surely take her far in the future, despite the cheap, lazy satire of this particular play.