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Bush Babe: Sandy Zivani brings Jenna Bush to lush life in 'Bye-bye bin Laden.'

Slaying the Sacred Cow

'Bye-bye bin Laden' lampoons the evils of totalitarianism and American mass-media saturation


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George W. Bush: Jenna, our enemies are evil. They're against freedom.
Jenna Bush: I feel free when I take off my top! I think I will--right now!
George: You march right over here so I can have Attorney General Ashcroft drape you with a cloth!
Jenna: You can't catch bin Laden, and you can't catch ME!! I hate you, Daddy! (Runs into audience.)

IRREVERENT? Yeah. Sick? Yeah. Funny? Hell, yeah. Check out some other scenes from San Jose State University professor Scott Sublett's new play, Bye-bye bin Laden: Ashjaal, a sexy but tasteful Afghan weatherwoman in a burka, sings and dances "The Taliban Twist" before being summarily gunned down by Mullah Omar. A risqué Jenna Bush sings "How I Love a Soldier Boy" to a gay soldier. Osama bin Laden and Norman Bates belt out a "Murder Duet" on a mock Psycho set. Bin Laden and his wife are transplanted into an episode of I Love Lucy, retitled I Love Prakhbar, in which Lucy and Ethel work at the terrorist compound assembly line filling up envelopes with anthrax.

This twisted musical skewers bin Laden and the Bush administration fighting to get TV coverage in America. Bin Laden and his agent, Manny, approach Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Omar in his cave and attempt to pitch ideas for sitcoms. At the same time, George W. and Jenna vie for their own sitcoms, only to wind up grappling with issues of sexual freedom and artistic expression. To top it all off, the whole thing is narrated by the ghost of Mark Bingham, the hero of Flight 93, which crashed near Shanksville, Pa.

"It satirizes the theocratic ambitions of the Taliban, the materialism of American culture and the media lens through which we see it all," says Sublett, whose last production, Die, Die Diana, was declared illegal and seditious in the United Kingdom. "The horrific requires a humorous response," he continues. "I'm a great fan of Chaplin's The Great Dictator, the Roberto Benigni movie Life Is Beautiful, the Marx Brothers' Duck Soup--films that responded to fascism by making fun of it. And the Taliban is just another form of totalitarianism, and my response to it is to make fun of it."

Those who slip toward the politically correct end of the spectrum might not be too inclined to get the jokes, like the one in which bin Laden--as Ricky Ricardo--has his wife Lucy's hands cut off as a punishment, and then Lucy turns toward the audience and goes "Waaaaaaaaa."

Taken completely out of context, scenes like the one in which Jenna Bush says her dad "wouldn't be president if Uncle Jeb had let those old Jews count their votes" might lightly tread on a few sensibilities. But the play--which must be understood and experienced as a whole--pillories all these issues with ecstatic ridicule in pure Rabelaisian glee, and does so in a productive fashion. Osama himself even drinks a blasphemous glass of whiskey to sooth the ol' murderous nerves a bit. Cheers!

"The tone of the humor is like South Park," Sublett says. "I won't go as far as to say that nothing is sacred, but [in the play] there are definitely some sacred cows that get turned into hamburger."

Perhaps the most prideful aspect of the production is that it's performed entirely by SJSU students. "When you work in a college environment, you're working with such an eclectic group of people," says Gia Solari-Welch, the play's choreographer. "And you only see that in an educational institution."

The play is a bold campaign for laughter's medicinal properties. As the ghost of Mark Bingham declares in the play: "We, here, today, in 21st-century America, seem to think that at last, things have finally gotten so rotten that one is no longer allowed to laugh. ... People take themselves so seriously! Lighten up. Laugh at danger. Laugh at the Taliban. Most of all--laugh at yourself."

Bye-bye Bin Laden runs Nov. 15­16 and 21­23 at 7pm and Nov. 20 at 1pm at the SJSU University Theater, Fifth and San Fernando streets. Tickets are $15 general/$10 students and are available through the Event Center box office. (408.924.4555)

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From the November 14-20, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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