Metro Weekly

Mosaic’s ‘Nancy’ is a Pungent, Absurdist Satire (Review)

The impressive qualities of "Nancy" add up to only a mildly satisfying whole for Mosaic Theater's world-premiere satire.

Nancy – Lynn Hawley – Photo: Chris Banks

During one shining moment set at the Reagan ranch, Mosaic Theater’s world-premiere production of Rhiana Yazzie’s Nancy hits its stride, blending Yazzie’s pungent satire with director Ken-Matt Martin’s often absurdist vision.

The actors in the scene actually hit a treadmill to depict Ronald and Nancy Reagan out riding the range at Rancho del Cielo. Loping along on conveyor belts, side-by-side atop inflatable horses, Michael Kevin Darnall, offering an amusing caricature of the 40th president, and Lynn Hawley, fantastic in the title role, strike a profoundly funny, fitting image of the iconic ’80s power couple.

Often doused in Nancy’s signature red and pearls by costume designer Moyenda Kulemeka, Hawley illuminates the former First Lady alternately with flint or panic. Nancy is a comic whirlwind dictating letters to the likes of Punky Brewster star Soleil Moon Frye, a youth spokesperson for the First Lady’s Just Say No anti-drug campaign.

Moments later, her commanding exterior is ruffled by a telegram regarding old Hollywood friend Rock Hudson. The actor, the most well-known AIDS patient in the world at the time, has been rejected for treatment by the only medical facility, based in France, that might be able to save or extend his life.

Will Nancy try to convince Ron to ride to the rescue? Can she convince him to do anything about the AIDS crisis? Can her caftan-clad astrologist Joan (Regina Aquino) steer her towards the answers?

Yazzie astutely uses comedy to subvert the sanctity of Mommy and Daddy Reagan and imagine the people behind the politics—as in a scene of saucy bedroom role-play that reminds us the pair were B-movie actors before they reached the White House.

In the midst of such absurdist touches, against the backdrop of scenic designer Misha Kachman’s wall-sized Nancy, a fertile canvas for projecting facts and fantasy, Hawley’s Nancy captures an icon at human scale.

On the opposite side of that scale is the play’s other protagonist, Esmeralda (‘Anaseini Katoa), the self-starting, single-mom CEO of the American Indian Women’s Business Empowerment Institute, and a proud member of the Navajo Nation. Like Nancy, Esmeralda’s a strong-willed mother — to feisty teen Jacqueline (Tenley Stitzer) — with causes to champion, and formidable enemies she must defeat along the way.

All her enemies aren’t flesh and blood. Esmeralda’s life mission is to cleanse her reservation of the radioactive waste that’s sickening her people and has claimed lives in her own family. She’s marching uphill, burdened with the history of abuses against her nation, and the sexist discrimination against her person, and Katoa puts real force behind her determination to have others see what she sees.

While Katoa delivers a committed take on the role, the play feels less assured, limning the parallel drama of Esmeralda’s trip to pitch a project before the American Indian Business Commission. The plotting is less precisely arranged, and the performances less effective than what’s happening on the Nancy and Ronnie side of the story.

Darnall, doing a solid triple turn as the President and Nancy’s gay staffer, also plays Ed, a dubious developer, who, along with his white-passing, part-Hopi wife Joey (Jen Olivares), tries to hustle up a Commission bid with Esmeralda. Their associate Whaley (Derek Garza) appears most sympathetic to Esmeralda’s cause, and possibly interested in more, so she’s tempted, though she suspects their intentions might not be true.

Well, guess what? The lack of subtlety here is a letdown. This Esmeralda seems too sharp to be taken in by a wolf or wolves so clearly licking their chops. The characters and their interactions at the Commission somehow feel less credible than the daffy imaginings of what Mommy and Daddy get up to in the official residence.

The results are scenes, even one or two in the White House, where characters’ intentions seem as vague to the actors as they might be to us. One character whose intentions are not usually vague, though his onstage blocking is confusing, is Nancy’s sworn nemesis, Don Regan (Garza), the President’s chief of staff.

For some reason, Regan never puts down his briefcase. He doesn’t open it or hit anybody with it. He’s never seen anywhere near the President, so it’s probably not the fabled nuclear football. He’s just always holding it, carrying Ronnie’s existential baggage, maybe? Maybe we should consult an astrologer.

Nancy (★★★☆☆) runs through April 21 at Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. Tickets are $20 to $70, with economy ticket options for each performance. Call 202-399-7993, ext. 2 or visit

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