Review: Rude Mechanicals’ production of “Herod and the Slaughter of the Innocents”

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“Herod and the Slaughter of the Innocents” is a medieval drama that tells the story of King Herod who learns that a new king is to be born. Herod orders his soldiers to execute all male infants under 2 to protect his throne. He soon finds his orders useless as Mary and Joseph are warned by an angel of what the king plans to do and so they flee to Egypt. After the slaughter, Herod is visited by death and sent to hell.

When we first get introduced to “Herod and the Slaughter of the Innocents,” we see refugee families circling the stage, while old images of the “Slaughter of the Innocents” are projected. Herod’s slaughter of children becomes a parody of the Trump administration. A version of Sarah Sanders (played by Deidre Morrison) stands on stage at a podium asking if anyone has any questions while the refugee families continue circling. Afterwards, we see a parodied version of President Donald J. Trump (played by Wensel Poston) enter the stage sitting upon a throne.

Trump orders his men to slaughter all the children, to which the men cheer and brag about how they are going to murder them, and how they fantasize about it. The refugees grouped together on the stage have their children ripped away. Women are threatened with spears, while a younger woman is sexually assaulted by one of the soldiers. When the soldiers report back to Trump bragging about their triumph, Trump decides to throw a party complete with a dinner from McDonalds (a Happy Meal for himself) with Chris Rock playing in the background. Everyone in the Trump administration on stage is wearing hats that say, “Make Herod Great Again.” In the end, death comes for everyone in the administration while Satan claims Trump and dooms him to an afterlife of torture.

The Rude Mechanicals were bold and brave for their modernized take on this medieval drama. It left audience members either laughing or uncomfortable by the material presented.

I was uncomfortable as I wasn’t sure what to expect from the play. I went in not knowing the story of Herod. The acting of the refugees (played by Jeannie Milito, Lydia King, Corey Mullen, and Jami Hartman) was so realistic that it did not seem like acting at all as those involved screamed so realistically.

The play was humorous in some parts, though, such as the scene with the McDonalds dinner. Scenes such as this referenced what Trump has done. The McDonalds was a reference to Trump’s serving McDonalds to the Clemson University football team at the White House. There was also a reference to Trump’s comments made with the personality of “Access Hollywood,” Billy Bush.

Dr. Betty Ellzey, the director of the production, said, “This medieval play features a refugee family, violence against the family, and violence against women. These are not problems that have disappeared from 21st century America, as I hope our production of this 500-year-old play will make clear.”

I found the production made those problems clear, and call for a change in how humanity is treated. By bringing up current political problems and not holding back on graphic content, or controversies Trump has been involved in, The Rude Mechanicals pulled off a brave and bold production. However, I wish there would have been a graphic content warning printed on the program, so I could have better prepared myself for the scenes I was about to witness. I also think that with scenes that realistic, they could be seen as a trigger to assault victims who came out to the see the production.

That being said, I don’t think the graphic scenes should have been omitted from the play because they were taking a stance on what women have and still are going through. There have been news stories along with books written about women’s accounts on getting assaulted by soldiers or seeing neighbors getting assaulted. The scene was making a clear call to action that assault and abuse of humanity needs to stop. Overall, I found the production to be powerful in stating a political stance, and presenting such realistic acting.

The performance was dedicated to Todd Young, one of the founding members of The Rude Mechanicals, who passed away in 2013 and played as Herod in 2001.