The Timing Is Right for Sean Devine’s Latest Political Play

With ‘Daisy,’ the Canadian playwright hits on the zeitgeist of American presidential politics.

As most Americans were, Sean Devine was changed by the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

“The world shifted toward a militaristic way,” the playwright says now, “and I became curious about that. I started researching the Bush administration and the people who worked for him.”

The difference in Devine’s story is that he is Canadian. Nonetheless, he dove deep into the arena of American politics and in 2003 emerged with the ideas for three different plays, one of which will premiere July 8 at ACT Theatre.

The play, Daisy, is a semi-fictional account of the most infamous political ad ever devised. The year was 1964, and the ad team charged with assuring Lyndon B. Johnson’s re-election as president produced one that positioned his opponent, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, as a careless warmonger capable of unleashing the horrors of nuclear war on the world.

The irony, says Devine, is that the ad people believed they were assuring a victory for the peace president, not for the man who would further mire the country in the Vietnam War. “I’ve always been drawn to stories where idealists have their ideals crushed, or powerful institutions manipulate and use the tools of their power,” Devine says. “That’s how I got intrigued into it.”

The ad—which depicts a young girl and a mushroom cloud—aired only once, but its shock waves have been felt in presidential politics ever since. In particular, this election year—which, like 1964, features a blowhard populist Republican taking on a seasoned Democratic hawk—has produced numerous media references to the ad. The timing could not have been more perfect for the production, which is being directed by ACT artistic director John Langs. That was not by design. “We started working on the play six years ago,” says Langs. “Long before the spine-tingling relevancy that it will have when we set it off.”

This production is Langs’s second collaboration with Devine, following a Vancouver staging of Re:Union, another of the plays that grew out of Devine’s post-9/11 research. It is also the second politically themed work to appear in Langs’ first season as artistic director, following a powerful, and equally resonant, spring production of Assassins. Just as Sondheim’s musical brought life to the characters who shaped history from the shadows, Daisy is set at a slight remove from the seat of power, finding its drama in the lives of the lesser-known actors who served the president.

“What I love about Sean’s writing [is that] he understands the human story is the most important thing,” Langs says. “He never hectors or lectures an audience. Even though his work is political, he finds the unique, interesting human story.” ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., 292-7676, acttheatre.org. Runs July 8–Aug. 7.

mbaumgarten@seattleweekly.com

More in Arts & Culture

A scene from the 2017 Seattle Pride Parade. Photo by Bobby Arispe Jr./Flickr
Seattle Pride Pick List

Maximize your Pride Weekend experience with these standout celebrations and activities.

Hulking out at the ACE Comic Con in Glendale, Ariz. Photo courtesy of ACE Comic Con
The Pop-Up Disruptor Con

ACE Comic Con heads to Seattle this week with a stripped down, star-focused model. Will it work?

Snail Mail’s Lindsey Jordan is still a teen, making ‘Lush’ an even more ridiculous indie rock achievement. Photo courtesy Ground Control Touring
Pick List: Snail Mail, Sounders Pride, Peach Kelli Pop

The week’s best entertainment options.

Dino-Might

While peppier than its predecessor, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom still feels very calculated.

Photo by Brett Curtiss/Flickr
Memories of Prides Past

We caught up with some notable locals to reminisce about their favorite moments from the festivities.

Illustration by Taylor Dow
Indignation and Compassion

Cancer season, and summer, begin with choppy waters.

Putting in the Werk

While best known for underground dance music, Kremwerk has quietly fostered Seattle’s alternative queer entertainment scene.

Take dad out to the ball game, take dad out with the crowd… Photo by Elise Lin/Flickr
Father’s Day Pick List

Make the most of a day with the ol’ man with these dad-centric activities.

Speedy Ortiz with the candlestick in the flowery room. Photo courtesy Ground Control Touring
Pick List: Speedy Ortiz, Men in Blazers, Fremont Fair

The week’s best entertainment options.

Most Read