This week, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, speaking on Fox News ahead of Trump’s first speech to the United Nations on September 19, explained that building a wall on the United States' southern border “shows the world that we respect sovereignty.” The sovereignty of the mind of Kellyanne Conway was what LiveFeedNYC, in town for a one-day-only Philly Fringe show, hoped to unpack in The Passion of Kellyanne.
According to the show’s creators, LiveFeedNYC “formed in a teeny-tiny bead of flop sweat on Richard Nixon’s upper lip” during America’s first-ever televised presidential debate. Ever since then, the diverse ensemble has been “trying to track how mass media affects what we think about politics, gender, identity, love — you know, the usual stuff.”
Care Bear, Young Republican, Trump wrangler
The show opened with the sounds of Joan Jett’s "Bad Reputation" and flew to 1976 New Jersey. There, a grade-school Kellyanne in a pink rainbow Care Bears onesie asked Jesus to “please bring me a big, strong, handsome daddy” — a major recurring theme.
The audience could be forgiven for having some trouble figuring out exactly where Kellyanne was onstage, especially in the show’s early scenes. An ensemble of women actors jumped in and out of different roles with little apparent regard for consistent characterization or style. At least two actors played a pot-smoking, kazoo-wielding Jesus in beaded blonde braids and a white housecoat clasped by a hair-clip; two played Trump with extremely uneven success; and five actors took the role of Kellyanne in various blonde wigs (Carmen Hammons, Cary Curran, Zulivet Diaz, Madeleine Mfuru, and Lawryn Lacroix).
As the show moved on to Hammonton, New Jersey, in the 1980s and then to present-day New York City and Washington, D.C., we saw Trump’s top surrogate as a child, a berry-picking beauty queen, and a cheerleader. She appeared as a beautiful, Barbie-slick TV pundit and as a burgeoning career woman, “smoothed like a stone in the river” by the Young Republicans, who landed at a D.C. polling firm and later in the 2016 presidential campaign.
In her Blueberry Princess incarnation, a young Kellyanne said that she wanted to be president… of a South Jersey business association, and “commander-in-chief of my own home and family,” a declaration apparently tempered to assuage her relatives.
As a rising pollster, Kellyanne's character immediately responded to sexual harassment at work by delivering a blowjob, but agonized in another prayer to Jesus about whether or not she should “work for the pussy-grabber.” When Trump won the presidency, she berated him and hauled him, weeping, off the stage on her back.
Smiling while talking
Conway, the first woman to run a successful U.S. presidential campaign, may be a figure of particular interest to Philadelphians. Back in January, Philebrity reflected on her status as a true-bred South Jersey “hoagiemouth” who now brings the world “awlturrnadiv FACKS.”
Unfortunately, The Passion of Kellyanne was just shrill and disjointed. LiveFeedNYC’s version of the pundit is a chaotic mix of wacky, narcissistic religiosity, weird daddy issues, and conflicted ambitions. However, I’d be willing to entertain the idea that watching it is supposed to be as disorienting and frustrating as your average Conway interview.
But as a recent Vox video demonstrates, the president’s counselor is far from unhinged — the woman is an absolutely unflappable, motormouthed genius. The relentless obfuscation of her wall-to-wall rhetoric may be unparalleled in our time, defying facile “conservo-bot” characterization.
The Passion of Kellyanne gets some things right. She has learned to “perfect the skill of smiling while talking… and talking… and talking.” And she may not be telling the truth — but in politics, we don’t call that lying.