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IN Series’s amusing ‘Gonzales Cantata’ musicalizes a congressional grilling

Sung with the drama of classical music, a hearings transcript turns to satire.

Charles Green of DC Metro Theater Arts

The Gonzales Cantata, a streaming production of the IN Series online program Invision, The Logan Operahouse Without Walls, is a cleverly done “docu-opera.” Composer Melissa Dunphy has taken the transcripts from the 2005 congressional hearings on then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, accused of improperly firing several attorneys, and has had performers sing those texts operatically, accompanied by organ. Directed by Corinne Hayes, with music direction by Michael Lodico and editing by Joe Haughton and Adam Grannick, The Gonzales Cantata is a short, amusing piece that endows political hearings with the drama of classical music.

One amusing twist to this production is that the genders have been switched, so that women play the male roles, and a man plays the lone female, Senator Feinstein. The women all wear suits and ties, but with long hair, while the man (Joe Haughton), wears pearls and a colorful jacket. Julie Bosworth, Kelly Curtin, Joe Haughton, Noelle McMurtry, Caroline Miller, Elizabeth Von Os, and Cara Schaefer give an extreme seriousness to the congressional committee members, questioning Gonzales (Melissa Wimbish) and reacting indignantly to the nonresponses. They play it with great musicality, repeating phrases and elongating words.

Curtin takes charge as committee head Patrick Leahy, starting off the questions and quickly turning harsh as Gonzales fails to convincingly answer them, asking repeatedly, “Did you prepare for the meeting?” Haughton simply scoffs in disbelief. Schaefer as Orrin Hatch is the lone member to seem sympathetic, a sad look on her face and a pleading tone in her voice, trying to find a good reason for Gonzales’s actions. In one scene, those not singing cover their faces with their open notebooks.

Melissa Wimbish gives Gonzales’s lines great musicality as well. At one point she repeats her most common answer, “I don’t recall,” in many different tones, gesturing with her hands. She also gives comedy to her stage business, putting on clown makeup while responding, then later wiping it off. She gives dramatic weight to business-speak jargon like “performance related,” and makes Gonzales sympathetic with his line reminding the audience of his roots as the son of immigrants: “Even my worst days as Attorney General are better than my father’s best days.” Ultimately, though, Wimbish gives Gonzales the sense of being comically unprepared for this grilling.

Musical Director Michael Lodico, who also plays the organ, uses the music to enhance the hearing’s drama, providing musical flourishes. Audio Editor Joe Haughton generally balances the singing with the music, although some viewers may need closed captioning to understand the lyrics. Video Editor Adam Grannick uses all sorts of techniques to create movement, highlighting some performers and pulling others into the background. The backgrounds are symbolic and active as well, an image of the Constitution burning around the performers near the end. Corinne Hayes does a great job as director, keeping the performers engaging and interacting with each other even in their separate video squares. They have turned an ordinary, if contentious, political event into a musical blend of satire and drama.

Running Time: Approximately 40 minutes, with no intermission.

The Gonzales Cantata is available for streaming here. Visit the IN Series website for further information and to view their other productions.

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