When you've got Rush Limbaugh getting schooled by the Statue of Liberty (who steps off her pedestal for the task), you focus on the words and historical context — not the understated costumes and lack of props.
That's Bill Durland's hope, anyway, with The Ghosts of America Past: A Satirical Morality Play. It's his third stab at Reader's Theater, typically one-time performances sponsored by Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission and the Colorado Springs ACLU.
The fictional story mimics Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and Limbaugh, played by local poet Loring Wirbel, takes on a role similar to that of Ebenezer Scrooge. Miss Liberty leads Limbaugh through time, where he learns from former slave and women's rights activist Sojourner Truth, former President Lyndon B. Johnson, and other historical Americans who push Limbaugh to a transformation that Wirbel says is mild compared to Scrooge's life-altering revelation.
"The analogies are obvious, but it's not like he comes out and says, 'God bless us every one,'" Wirbel says. "He's more like, 'Oh, there's really a world out there that I have to be aware of and responsible to and that maybe I should reflect accurately.'"
The hour-long, satire-laced play is a bit of a stretch for Durland, who has penned several books about theology and nonviolence. But the former Virginia House delegate says that satire aside, he did not stray too far from his more serious, fact-based writing style. The script is chock-full of quotes from all of the characters, including Limbaugh, Durland says. And "the theme is based on a statement from Martin Luther King, who said all he asks of America is to be true to what it said on paper."
Durland, 81, says he took advantage of the fictional foundation of the piece toward the end of the play with characters like J.P. Morgan Chase, a man who can't figure out if he is a person or a corporation, and Mr. and Mrs. Middle Class.
"We keep blaming the recession and politics on different people, including Rush," Durland says. "But really when it gets down to it, it's the 99 percent that determines our vote in a democracy, and they aren't sure what they're doing.
"I'm not trying to say that everything's going to hell, but I want to get to people, just weeks before the election now, to think about how the past relates to what we are doing now," Durland adds. "Yes there's a message, but it's supposed to be fun, too."