To a liberal New Yorker, the Tea Party is all that is wrong with America. But what if the opposite were also true? Wouldn’t a Tea Partier say the exact same thing of liberals? In Rich Orloff’s documentary-style play, Chatting with the Tea Party, the audience follows Rich (played by Jeffrey C. Wolf), a liberal New York playwright, as he travels around the country to seek out the human side of the Tea Party.
With all lines taken verbatim from transcripts of interviews with various Tea Party members (gamely played by John E. Brady, Maribeth Graham, and Richard Kent Green), Rich narrates his progression from being slightly curious about Tea Party members’ views to attending Tea Party meetings in different states to being an unlikely champion of them. Spurred by his hyper-liberal friends’ ire toward these conservatives without actually knowing a single one, Rich strives to find out who they really are and what makes them tick, and even tries to find a common ground.
Along the way, he discovers that Tea Partiers aren’t exactly who he and his liberal friends thought they’d be. Sure, he inherently disagrees with their beliefs, but at least they participate, which is more than he can say for a lot of people he knows. Tea Partiers call their representatives. They show up at political meetings. They are generally more engaged in the political process. Say what you will about their beliefs, Rich says, they at least deserve our respect for doing their civic duty.
Orloff hits on the multifaceted nature of people, who can be outrageously crazy and narrow-minded but also surprisingly kind, well-spoken and passionate about their ideals. The interviews show that someone can be a gun nut but also a family man. He can be anti-abortion but still want what’s best for his teenage daughter. Humans are not one-dimensional; even the guy who is so against the Affordable Care Act admits his loved ones would be dead if not for government-funded healthcare.
Rich at one point says that there are 7 billion people on Earth and sometimes it seems as though there are 7 billion different worlds. Maybe we ought to stop battling each other’s worlds and try to find more overlap in our human experience. Hopefully, Chatting with the Tea Party is one way to start a dialogue, maybe even with someone you think is your enemy.