The Extremists

PRODUCTIONSThe Extremists - BPPI cover
English Theatre Berlin, 2009
7 Stages, Atlanta, 2009
Schauspielhaus Bochum, 2010 †
Ackerstadtpalast, Berlin, 2012 †
Clancy Productions & Assembly, Edinburgh Fringe, 2013
Michelson Theater, Clark University, Worcester, 2018
TheatreWorks, New Milford, 2022

A TV discussion show. A respectful, on-the-ball interviewer. An incisive, on-the-ball interviewee. He has a new explosive book just out on extremism, and she has the job of exploring the issues for the viewers. Seasoned practitioners in the dark arts of media, they hit their stride the second they go on air. The debate that unravels at breakneck speed switches each second from heated invective to hyper-rational reasoning and back again. Boxer-like, the interviewee dodges and parries each probe into his own evident extremism, skilfully presenting himself as more and more liberal as he manipulates the definition of “normal” before our disbelieving eyes. Gradually the pastiche turns to parody and then to full-blown satire as our protagonists embark on a sort of moral rewind on our world of talking head politics and social control. Framed by John Clancy’s finger-on-the-pulse direction, and charged with interpreting C J Hopkins’ fiendishly complex rollercoaster of a script, David Calvitto and Carol Scudder take on the challenge with relish and enviable technique – indeed, you’ll look hard to find another pairing with the chops to pull this off. THE STAGE (UK)

The Extremists is dazzling. For 75 minutes, a pair of actors delivers an anarchic script at incredible pace, in the process forcing their audience to reconsider the framework of western democracy as practiced in the Land of the Free. The initial premise is that we are watching a TV talk show for intellectuals on which interviewer Carol Scudder’s Jane welcomes David Calvitto as Norman Krieger, the chilling author of a book on extremism in the 21st Century. It doesn’t take long for his conservative views to pile out, accompanied by deliberately excessive gesturing soon picked up by his host. This anarchic play, directed with brio and precision by John Clancy, then moves on to present its own extreme views on politics, philosophy and the nature of theatre. The pacing is such that the actors do well to keep up and some of the ideas flash by never to be seen again but overall, this is an unforgettable experience.  ***** BRITISH THEATRE GUIDE

If you’ve ever flicked on to America’s Fox News, out of curiosity, a desire for humour or just by accident, then you’ll know a little about what to expect from The Extremists. However, while the Fox News pundits are usually – and sadly – wholly sincere, this play is an incredibly self-aware depiction of the scare tactics used in American media and politics to nullify the public into mindless following of what they are told to be true. Funny, fast-paced and intentionally patronising, this show will have you laughing out loud at its insightful and highly satirical look into the American attitude towards terrorism, extremism and the ways in which right wing politicians try to dress themselves up to appear more central, more palatable. That is, if you can focus enough on the meaning of the words words words thrown incessantly at the audience. What is particularly impressive is the physicality of the piece – especially considering that, in true talk show-style, the actors are predominantly seated across a table from one another. Their study of political body language is sharply observed, and the way the politicians vie for the attention of the audience and the cameras is taken directly from almost any TV politics show. The Extremists takes all these familiar tropes and turns them round to shine a light on the ways in which we are pandered to by fear-mongering experts who rarely spout any real facts. **** THE SKINNY (UK)

… The Extremists, a new play by another American writer, CJ Hopkins, whose partnership with the brilliant and mercurial actor David Calvitto has featured in several previous Fringes. This time the set-up is one of those endless and interchangeable television current affairs extended inerviews. Here the anchor, (Carol Scudder) is the straight (wo)man to Calvitto’s “expert” with the obligatory new book on whatever is the subject of the programme. In this case that would be the extremists. Which extremists, you might ask? Well, quite. In a devastatingly brilliant tour de force, Calvitto and Hopkins take us from the point at which the extremists are the other – foreign, weird, incomprehensibly other – who threaten us are everywhere and all around to the point where we realise that actually it is us who are the least tolerant and the most dangerous of all. Us because we are complicit in all the tropes of programmes such as these and a whole bunch of other assumptions, rhetorical flourishes, received wisdoms, easy soundbites, self-delusions and general myopia with which we reassure ourselves. It may not break new ground in terms of insights but it is conducted at such dazzling speed, and so perfectly skewers all the little lies and double-thinks which comfort us, not to mention the absurdities of this kind of television, that it is impossible to resist … Added to which, some neat directorial touches (courtesy of John Clancy) will have you chuckling. I especially liked the moment where Calvitto’s vision of democracy flying off to take over the world turns, without you noticing the exact moment that it happens, into a Fascist salute. You will be left breathless but exhilarated. It’s Calvitto that has the acting nomination (though Scudder is no slouch); richly deserved, I’d say. STV

The audience never tunes out while watching The Extremists at 7 Stages. At first we sit back and laugh at the doublespeak as CJ Hopkins’ media satire takes potshots at some easy targets. By the end, we find ourselves squirming as if we’re the ones in the hot seat, mentally justifying our own choices and behaviors. … After a stealthy first half, the production confronts the viewers like it’s a merciless Jon Stewart and we’re a hapless Jim Cramer. … The play doesn’t just target conservatives, but implies that the entire political process is a corrupt means for national and global dominance. … Near the play’s end, one of the characters finds himself in the dark with the audience, wondering whether he’s been brainwashed into accepting someone else’s system of ideas. Few questions can be as potentially explosive as “Why aren’t you doing exactly what you want?” If you ask yourself such things, you may be an extremist without even realizing it. The Extremists doesn’t just turn the tables on the talk shows, but on everybody. To paraphrase “Pogo” cartoonist Walt Kelly, “We have met the extremists, and they is us.” CREATIVE LOAFING ATLANTA

It’s Samuel Beckett meets Larry King in this new play by CJ Hopkins. When an expert on terrorism appears on a TV talk show, the conversation becomes a perverse satirical rant on the increasing alienation of the individual in the modern world. A dark satire that playfully mocks the essential absurdity of the talking-head culture … taking on big issues like the loss of individualism and the looming apocalypse … smartly written and nicely acted. ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION

The word “insane” is one of the most frequently heard words on the stage … it describes the evening very well. The Extremists begins as harmless media satire, a conversation in which the host and the invited expert toss empty phrases back and forth … Hopkins builds a construct of ideas out of their rhetoric until everything revolves around one thing – what is the truth for the good guys and what is it for the bad guys … what is reality? Heady theater in the truest sense. DER TAGESSPIEGEL

Theater has undeniable advantages over film. For example, it can sometimes lay bare the mechanisms of the media, as in The Extremists, the new play by US playwright and Berlin resident CJ Hopkins … it begins seemingly clearly: a talkshow host interviewing a guest who has written a book on Terrorism. They begin their exchange, and the levels of meaning go slowly haywire. The guest seems to become more and more implicated in the terror himself, and the host in the war against it. … A gripping satire, which spills into sinister weirdness. DIE TAGESZEITUNG


† staged readings of the German translation by Jasna Miletic.