CORAL GABLES, FL—In an attempt to tell the story of his failed candidacy in his own words, former Florida governor Jeb Bush has rented out a local black box theater and debuted a one-man show that chronicles the tragedy of his 2016 presidential campaign, sources reported Thursday.
According to those in attendance opening night, the two-act solo piece, entitled Jeb? (Or: The Rise And Fall Of An Honest, Consensus-Building Conservative), traces the 64-year-old’s path from well-heeled Republican frontrunner to presidential also-ran in a 150-minute performance that features monologues, character vignettes, musical interludes, and a 10-minute interpretive dance sequence in which Bush starts out as an egg and then goes on to reenact his childhood.
Clad in a black T-shirt and black jeans, the onetime White House hopeful reportedly moves barefoot across the stage, which, apart from a single lectern, is completely empty.
“Why, you might not think it to look at me now, but there was a time when people expected big things from me—though I don’t suppose you’d want to hear about that, would you?” Bush wonders aloud during an early scene, speaking as an elderly version of himself and hobbling downstage with a cane in his hand. “Well, believe it or not, I once stood before a crowd of cheering people who were awfully excited to hear me say, ‘I’m a candidate for president of the United States of America.’”
“Here I am now—it’s June 2015, I’m in Miami, and I’ve just announced my campaign,” continues Bush, mimicking the roar of the crowd as he mimes shaking supporters’ hands and kissing babies. “Yessir, I had the whole world on a string: I’d come up with a strong message about jobs and immigration, and folks had given my Super PAC more than a hundred million bucks. My friends and I thought the future was just waiting for us to reach out and grab it. My God, we were so naïve! Standing before all those bright lights and flashing cameras, I had gone blind.”
Theater patrons confirmed that the show, which runs three nights a week through Dec. 20 at the Gables Playhouse Upstairs Stage, includes a monologue in which candidate Bush, puffing out his chest, speaks confidently about how he will undo President Barack Obama’s policies. Soon, however, the stage lights begin rapidly flickering on and off, his words grow more and more confused, and he wanders out into the aisles of the theater mumbling incoherent syllables into the ears of audience members.
Another memorable scene reportedly finds Bush reenacting the third Republican presidential debate: slouching forward and affecting the Jersey dialect of Chris Christie, then smirking and taking on a sharp nasal tone to impersonate Ted Cruz. Sources said Bush quickly jumps from one part of the stage to another, cycling faster and faster through the personas of all 10 GOP candidates until the scene, like the debate itself, devolves into chaos.
Attendees noted that Bush saves his most damning portrayal for Donald Trump, ending each of his chief antagonist’s lines by whispering, “Lies, lies, lies.” As the Trump character berates him with insults, Bush slowly moves upstage, making himself smaller and smaller and eventually curling up into a fetal position.
“You’ve lost New Hampshire, you’ve lost Iowa, it all comes down to South Carolina,” Bush says in the play’s final moments, repeatedly shouting “South Carolina, here we come!” at the top of his lungs as he drags the lectern upstage and stands behind it. “The people have voted. The returns are in. Fourth place. A crushing, humiliating defeat. It’s all over. My journey has ended.”
“What a poison draught to swallow,” continues Bush, a spotlight slowly contracting until only his anguished face is visible as he falls to his knees and grasps frantically at his hair. “What a bitter pill. And why, why was I forsaken? What manner of country would bleed a man dry, suck the very marrow from his bones, then cast him aside like so many broken playthings? O, perfidy! O, pride! I’m sorry, big brother! I’m sorry, Father! And I’m sorry, Mr. Reagan—to you most of all. I feel the rushing tide of history leaving me to drown in its wake. Yet here, so close to the end, I also find the veil has been lifted, and I can see beyond to catch a glimpse of this nation’s future. Shall I tell you what I see? Oh, don’t ask it! For the vision in my mind’s eye is no shining city on a hill. No, I see only darkness. I see destruction. I see death. God bless America, and God help us all.”
Theater ushers confirmed a section of front-row seats that had been roped off and reserved for members of the Bush family remained empty throughout the performance.