Vol 14 No. 7, Oct 28 - Nov 3 2004


-THEATER-

THEATER NEWS
The White House vs. Poona the Fuckdog
by Brendan Kiley


The White House hadn't returned my calls as of press time. Nor had the National Endowment for the Arts. "That's the way they do things," Republican loyalist and fringe-theater nut Gary Cole informed me. "They don't have to explain."

In June 2003, Gary Cole, a lifelong conservative activist and dedicated fringe artist (I know--go figure), was offered a job as Deputy Chairman for Grants and Funding at the NEA, managing more than $16 million in grant money. Cole was working as a Portland lawyer at the time and was thrilled to see his political and artistic lives converge. He quickly accepted the job, made a bid on a house on the East Coast, and was preparing to move when, two days after he was offered the job, things went sour. "I got a call from the NEA, withdrawing the offer without any explanation," he said. "It's a White House political decision in Karl Rove's office--they have to sign off on all political appointments." Cole said a few of his well-connected friends privately blamed it on the Fuckdog.

Political satire Poona the Fuckdog is among the titles released by StageDirect, Cole's entrepreneurial stage-to-film project. StageDirect has also marketed The Haint by Troy Mink and Straight by The Stranger's own David Schmader.

"Straight and Poona were considered beyond the political pale by the Bush administration, despite good reviews by the New Yorker, the New York Times, and the L.A. Times," Cole said. "People talk about how this administration panders to cultural conservatives, and this is a concrete example. I consider myself a conservative, but art isn't about shutting your eyes."

A political--but not cultural--conservative who knows and truly loves good theater, Cole might have been a godsend to the arts. A lawyer and seasoned campaign worker by day, Gary Cole is a playwright, actor, and producer by night. He founded CoHo, a Portland theater company, and has trod the boards everywhere from Stanford University to Washington, D.C., where he worked for the CIA for three years and pursued semi-professional theater in his spare time.

"I guess you have to choose between being an artist and a Republican in a position of responsibility," Cole said. "And that choice was made for me by the White House."

Cole condemns the White House's decision as "cowardly and pandering," and says he won't be voting for George W. Bush this time around. "This administration has hijacked the party," he said. "Bush will do nothing, I repeat, nothing, to inflame social conservatives, and that's a cynical political calculation."

Boilerplate anti-Bush rhetoric sounds so refreshing when it comes from a Republican.

brendan@thestranger.com

Copyright 2004 TheStranger.com