By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
HOFFMAN: It is in the state of mind, in the mind of myself and my brothers and sisters.
WEINGLASS: When were you born?
HOFFMAN: Psychologically, 1960.
WEINGLASS: What is the actual date of your birth?
HOFFMAN: November 30, 1936.
WEINGLASS: Between the date of your birth, November 30, 1936, and May 1, 1960, what if anything occurred in your life?
HOFFMAN: Nothing. I believe it is called an American education.
PROSECUTING ATTORNEY RICHARD SCHULTZ: Objection!
THE COURT: I sustain the objection.
The judge goes on to sustain every objection by the prosecution, and none by the defense. Most of the production’s details are fastidiously authentic: the defendants’ cavalier postures, their gently mocking tone, their feet on the table strewn with papers and books of poetry, and their flashy dress juxtaposed against the prosecutors’ austere haircuts, suits and respect for the solemnity of the occasion.
The prosecution’s circular arguments and the defendants’ haughty ramblings reveal a kind of national insanity that came in the wake of Joseph McCarthy’s anticommunist witch hunts, and foreshadow Dick Cheney and Alberto Gonzales’ fetishes for torture and domestic surveillance. The charge of conspiracy against the Chicago Eight derived from unfettered malice. As Abbie Hoffman famously quipped, “Conspiracy? Hell, we couldn’t agree on lunch.”
The left keeps complaining that something has been lost with the Bush administration, when we’ve always hovered on the precipice of a police state. Our national credibility on the world stage is certainly in tatters, not because we used to be more principled but because we used to have more charm. Reagan’s wars in Latin America continued a long, brutal and hypocritical American tradition of propping up dictators who support us economically; but to most of the world, Reagan, like Bill Clinton, was a charmer. Bush’s policies are not so different from those of his predecessors — torture, surveillance, rolling past international agreements — none of this is new. The high crimes of the Bush administration stem from its utter lack of charm and discretion. Reagan proved that you could do almost anything with a wink and a smile. He was an actor. Bush has no mask and, because of it, neither does America.
The Chicago Conspiracy Trial offersa discomfiting if not painful reminder that the toxic brew of paranoia and aggression has a far more constant and forceful place in American history than democracy or anybody’s constitutional rights, especially Bobby Seale’s.
THE CHICAGO CONSPIRACY TRIAL | By RON SOSSI and FRANK CONDON | ODYSSEY THEATRE ENSEMBLE, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A. | Through December 16 | (310) 477-2055