'53% Of' review — examining the similarities on different sides of the aisle
In light of Friday's SCOTUS ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade and its protection of abortion rights nationwide, Steph Del Rosso's semi-satirical political drama 53% Of now inches closer to a horror play. The show kicks off in December 2016, and in 2022, where it could just as easily be set, it reminds us of the grave, lasting effects of that election. That said, it shouldn't take a catastrophic ruling for a play to pack a punch. 53% Of is assembled from a collection of political talking points from both sides that, by now, feel worn thin.
53% Of centers around two small coalitions. The conservative Women for Freedom and Family moms' group of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, represents the 53% of white women who voted for Donald Trump as president in 2016, and a liberal allyship group of 20somethings in Brooklyn represents the other 47%. We begin with the moms in a quaint suburban home — throw pillows embroidered with "Home Sweet Home," photos of kids, a fireplace — at a meeting to decide who should introduce the newly elected president at an upcoming school visit.
Here, Del Rosso plays to the expected audience's (urban liberals) most stereotypical view of Trump voters, peppering the women's conversation with fear-mongering talk of "illegal aliens" and aborted children, and derisive doubt toward a local teenager who claims she was raped. We're meant to dislike them — especially PJ, who shows up proudly sporting a Confederate flag sweatshirt.
PJ, though, introduces a class war, as even her fellow Republicans in the room are put off by her clothing choices and brash way of speaking. A similar, subtler war emerges in the second half of the show, in which we pivot to the cramped Brooklyn apartment where the liberal activists are planning their next event. However, they spend most of their meeting quibbling over whether the others are being progressive "correctly" and spend the other half performing a "white guilt ritual" that's meant to help them confront their own prejudices.
Del Rosso's intended takeaway is clear: neither Republican nor Democratic white women are a monolith, and the two parties aren't as different as they may believe themselves to be. As portrayed in 53% Of, both groups have the catty, competitve dynamic of a high school clique, and their preoccupation with respectability and being a "better" conservative or liberal than the others means neither deserves to act morally righteous. It also prevents them from doing any effective work, whatever their cause may be. Performative activism and inaction, the show posits, are just as bad as openly supporting harmful actions.
For me, a social media-saturated Gen Z-er, all this rang true and relevant, but added little new to the conversations that have dominated my feeds for the past two years. The show offers little insight into the failings of white people, intentional or not, that many young audiences especially, and certainly POC of any age, have likely been exposed to. (The singular, token-ish POC character, RJ, exemplifies this, as she's contradictorily given a monologue about not relying on POC to validate and educate us, which is seemingly meant to educate us.)
This also points to another issue — 53% Of, which is written by a presumably liberal white woman, appears to be for audiences of liberal white women. For that specific group, 53% Of works best as an intro-level reminder to check our biases and, to use a platitude, "do better." But it doesn't take a strong stance on what a different or better path forward looks like. While well-intentioned and well-acted, it's not the political theatre we need.
Photo credit: Grace Rex, Cathryn Wake, Marianna McClellan, and Anna Crivelli in 53% Of. (Photo by Joan Marcus)
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