Mosaic Theater Companys web series Inherit the Windbag is a darkly funny revisitation of a debate between two larger-than-life figures. During the 1968 Democratic and Republican National Conventions, gay liberal writer Gore Vidal and conservative commentator William F. Buckley Jr. argued with each other nightly on television. In this eight-part series, these two wits return from the grave to continue their debate, joined occasionally by figures such as Norman Mailer, Ayn Rand, and James Baldwin. Written by Alexandra Petri and directed by Lee Mikeska Gardner, each episode will be released every two weeks. Watch this space for a running review.
Release date: March 23, 2021
Guest appearances abound in Episode 3, with Stephen Kime as sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, alternating between making corny jokes with Vidal and asking Buckley questions from his sex surveys. Tamieka Chavis plays Buckleys wife, Pat, with a great reserve; when Buckley reenacts how he proposed to her, she looks away from him, playing cards. Chavis also plays a broadcast announcer who enthusiastically corrects several errors in Vidals biography, while Kime plays Tinker, one of Vidals many hookups, challenging the writer on some of his beliefs.
This episode also shows the two leads in soliloquies, with Paul Morella as Vidal, combining wit with passion, explaining how homosexuality is natural. John Lescault as Buckley begins with a strange ad of sorts for peanut butter, but then gives a loving tribute to his wife, Pat, who took such good care of Buckley for so many years. Although theirs seems a relationship much lacking in passion, Lescault makes it clear how deep and genuine his love for her was. These speeches work to humanize Vidal and Buckley, as they are not trying to score points or get laughs but to talk about what is dear to them.
Sound Designer David Bryan Jackson and Lighting and Projections Designer Dylan Wremovich continue the skillful use of technology. Pat appears in a painting frame, while Buckley rolls up to her to propose. As Kinsey recounts how he and Vidal met, a ballroom becomes the background. Their jokes are met with comedic sound effects, like a drum rimshot. Set Designer Emily Lotz and Costume Designer Brandee Mathies provide a small table and cards for Pat, a lab coat for Kinsey, and a casual outfit for Tinker. Director Lee Mikeska Gardner focuses on Buckleys and Vidals individual personalities in this episode.
By now, the rhythm of the series seems much smoother, allowing the viewer to sit back and follow the action. The ending feels natural and unhurried. Perhaps after two episodes, the viewer now knows what to expect and can relax.
Release date: March 9, 2021
Episode 2 continues the debate, with Tamieka Chavis playing Ayn Rand with a thick Russian accent and a delightfully comic hatred toward Buckley. She also plays Vidals mother with a humorous Southern accent; holding a large, full martini glass, she blurts out outrageous secrets about her family. Stephen Kime plays Norman Mailer with a curious mix of aggressiveness and thoughtfulness, rolling up his sleeves prepared to box Vidal and rehashing their old arguments. Later, he gives a tender reminiscence of the tumultuous 1968 Democratic convention, remembering the protesting youth.
Lescault dazzles as an erudite Buckley, replying in Latin in parts to Rand and Mailer (translated into English onscreen). As Vidal, Morella responds in great form to his jabs, with casually delivered witty barbs.
This episode makes great use of Sound Designer David Bryan Jackson and Lighting and Projections Designer Dylan Wremovich, as well as Set Designer Emily Lotz and Costume Designer Brandee Mathies. Rands face appears in extreme close-up on a monitor, at times only her eyes showing. Vidals mother wears a large pink scarf, a brightly white domestic scene behind her. Mailer shows up in life-size, a colorful backdrop behind him. At times he interacts with Vidal, walking around him. Replicating Buckley and Vidals original televised debate, the screen changes from color to black and white. Director Lee Mikeska Gardner does a great job of keeping up the energy and comic timing.
Again, the episode seems to end just as the viewer eases into the rhythms and guest appearances. For those who enjoy fast-paced, short bursts of comedy, this quickness is no issue, but viewers who need more time may want to wait for more episodes are released, to binge watch. The production certainly knows how to keep viewers hooked for the next installment.
Running Time: Approximately 14 minutes.
Release date: February 23, 2021
Episode 1 introduces Vidal and Buckley and sets up the situation. John Lescault gives Buckley an aristocratic air of condescension toward his debate partner, while Paul Morella delivers withering putdowns. Both move quickly from wonderment at their location (Hell, or the Richard Nixon Library) to trying to take control of the situation. They work well together, arguing from the moment they first appear and each responding effortlessly to the others comments. Tamieka Chavis and Stephen Kime appear onscreen first as broadcasters, preparing for Vidal and Buckleys return, then remain in the corners, occasionally commenting on the action. Chavis also has a brief cameo as Ayn Rand, doing a wonderful accent, and Kime gives a sinister voice to a disembodied Richard Nixon.
This production translates Set Designer Emily Lotz and Properties Designer Willow Watsons set, originally intended for a live, onstage show, to the online world. Two comfortable chairs are at the edges of the screen, while a scorecard appears in a corner. Costume Designer Brandee Mathies keeps the characters distinctive, with Vidal in a black suit and Buckley wearing white.
Sound Designer David Bryan Jackson ensures each actor is clearly heard, while also adding TV static sound effects and a distortion to Nixons voice. Lighting and Properties Designer Dylan Uremovich enhances the surreal aspect with somewhat low lighting and altered parts of Nixons face appearing onscreen. Director of Photography Chris Wren and Video Editor Karim Darwish add extra drama to the production with cuts and other techniques, including a black-and-white flashback to the original debate.
Alexandra Petri expertly captures Vidals and Buckleys personalities with her witty script, while Director Lee Mikeska Gardner keeps the actors interactions feeling natural, even though they are all on separate screens. It never feels like a Zoom call. At just over 11 minutes, though, this first episode feels short and ends abruptly, just as viewers are starting to settle in. Hopefully, future episodes will be a little longer. And each episode can be watched multiple times until June. Inherit the Windbag blends the best of technology and drama in what promises to be a humorous and timely production.
Running Time: Approximately 11 minutes.
Inherit the Windbagis available for streaming through June 30, 2021, on the Mosaic Theater Company website. Episodes will be released February 23, March 9 and 23, April 6 and 20, May 4 and 18, and June 1, 2021. The series program can be downloaded here. For further information on this and future episodes and productions, please visit Mosaics home page.
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