Ministerial (the play)

Type of work: absurdist drama.

Setting: downtown Sacramento.

Principal characters: (1) the enforcers: about 1,000 police and highway-patrol officers costumed in menacing riot gear who turn the downtown into a police state—complete with ever-present helicopters (think Miss Saigon) droning above—for the duration of the U.S. government-sponsored international Ministerial Conference and Expo on Agricultural Science and Technology; (2) the protesters: maybe 2,000 peaceful activist types mixed in with a few hundred angry Black Bloc anarchists plus a lovely sprinkling of winged butterflies, giant bug-eyed veggies and human cornstalks; (3) the delegates: some 150 international emissaries and others in attendance at the ministerial conference (these were the people, mostly unseen, to whom the protesters ostensibly were trying to speak); and (4) the media: about a hundred reporters, photographers and camera operators who moved, usually in packs, from one location to the next in search of the action (hint: these are the people—not the conference goers—with whom the protesters really were trying to make contact).

Story overview: The capital city of California is overtaken twice, first by a stupendous overkill of law-enforcement officers (attempting to protect delegates from actually having to speak to one of the butterflies or cornstalks) and next by the protesters (attempting to shut down or, at least, create havoc for the proceedings). The activists please the media and the audience most when they move randomly, like mitochondria, through the downtown. When they remove their clothing on Monday afternoon for a Mother Earth dance near 12th and J streets, TV helicopter cameras zoom back—way back!—in the interests of family programming. Meanwhile, with all the fun going on outside, the delegates attend a boring summer conference full of the usual panel discussions and display booths—very off-Broadway. They pretend what they’re doing is more interesting than the protests, but everybody knows this is false. This second act needs to be reworked.

Key developments: Cops rule by sheer overkill. But the protesters win the hearts of many thanks to the butterflies and, ultimately, the good that comes from rebellion of almost any sort.

Underlying theme: Do Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) represent the planet’s only great hope for solving world hunger, or will genetic organisms in food bring forth the destruction of our health and natural environment? Unfortunately, this crucial query—central to the thesis of Ministerial—is never answered by the action in the third act. Also, despite the fact that most GMOs are designed to serve huge agricultural interests now and not small developing countries, the street protesters fail to coherently make this point.

Rating: Fair for staging and costumes. We liked this play, but feel the dialogue and action could have better pushed the story line and thesis.