Daisy: A Chilling Reminder from the Past

From Top: Phillip J. Lewis, Erin Anne Williams, Alex Dabestani and Matthew Floyd Miller. PHOTO by Mike Bradecich.

Of Daisy, his chillingly prescient political play, Sean Devine says, “The [Daisy] commercial played only once. And we’re still talking about it.”  I venture to say, we’re now living it.  I hope you’re sitting on the edge of your seat by now, wondering exactly who is Daisy and why are we saying this about her?

Actually, the International City Theatre’s streaming presentation is not so much about “her” as it is a meticulously researched and well-presented digital performance detailing the origins of the type of political manipulation evident in the very political ads we’re deluged with every day.

What seems normal to us today was not the case when Lyndon Johnson, after John F. Kennedy’s assassination, ran for the presidency against Barry Goldwater, an off-the-wall extremist.  Both were running predictable campaigns, when LBJ operative, Clifford (Phillip J. Lewis), enlists Doyle, Dane, Birnbach ad agency to craft LBJ’s message. The lone female, fictional Louise Brown (Erin Anne Williams), proposes a TV ad based on the work of an obscure sound mixer, Tony Schwartz (David Nevell), who had developed a chilling radio ad playing on the fear of nuclear war some years earlier. Now infamous in 2020, the ad featured a young girl standing in a field, plucking petals off a daisy as she counts each petal, juxtaposed with a nuclear count-down and explosion.

Devine’s playmaking moves the action from scene to scene, building tension and momentum toward LBJ’s pending election. Lacking the immediacy of the stage, each scene takes on a bit of sameness as the play builds to an historically necessary conclusion.

However, Act Two brings the characters more into focus, with the spotlight settling on Brown, who turns out not to be the upstanding Girl Scout she presents.  Far be it for me to reveal any of the revelations; suffice it to say that there’s dirt under those fingernails. The result is clear as day – Daisy is a commercial that promotes fear.  As Bill Birnback of DDB says, “It’s easier to provoke voters than educate them.”

Are you sitting up yet?  While advertising has evolved from the 60s, basic attitudes have not. Problems of illegitimate speech have become so rampant on the internet that push-back has finally begun.  It’s high time we had this cogently written, well-crafted  production, even though we can’t celebrate it together.

To view Daisy, go to https://www.virtualvenuetheatricals.com/internationalcitytheatre. Available through November 7th, 2020. Tickets: $20.00.