REVIEW: "Daisy" — International City Theatre (Virtual Stream)

LBJ’s Infamous Mushroom-Cloud Commercial Cuts into Our Deepest Fears With This Award Winning Play

REVIEW: Amid the relentless critique of social media and the swirl of “fake news” accusations that never seem to go away, Sean Devine’s “Daisy” is a play that asks a timely question: Do political ads manipulate the fears we already have, or do they actually change minds?

International City Theatre's virtual production, directed by caryn desai, focuses on the Vietnam War era presidential election and the landmark ad campaign run by its ultimate victor, Lyndon Baines Johnson. In the ad, an innocent girl counts the petals on a daisy while a male voice—ostensibly Barry Goldwater, the hardline Republican candidate—ominously counts down to an atomic explosion.

Based on true events, “Daisy” is a political drama that presents the moment in TV history that ushered in the age of negative advertising and forever changed how we elect our leaders. It also tells the more cynical tale of how a nation got led into war, distracted by the "packaging" of a seemingly peaceful U.S. president. Daisy explores the art and science of political manipulation, the forces at play on public consciousness in our mediated world, and the impact that fear has had on our democracy. It’s a story that resonates so deeply with our current moment that it should be required viewing for all registered voters.

Set during the 1964 U.S. presidential election, with brutal race riots erupting across America, the play takes place in the high-pressure advertising world of Madison Avenue; a group of "ad men" working for Lyndon Johnson unleash the most powerful political commercial ever conceived, the "Daisy" ad. War was the objective. Peace was the bait. And everyone got duped. Johnson, who had become president only because John F. Kennedy was assassinated, was desperate to discredit his Republican presidential opponent, Arizona senator Barry Goldwater. He got more than he expected.

Picture a little blonde girl standing in the bushes. She’s no more than 4 years old. Probably younger. One chubby arm holds a freshly plucked daisy. Her open, freckled face studies the flower. Birds sing as she concentrates, counting petals, pulling them off as she goes:

One . . . two . . . three . . . four . . . five . . . seven . . . six . . . six . . . eight . . . nine . . . Suddenly, another voice. A man—amplified, accented, distorted. We can’t see him. He drowns out the girl.

Is it God? Ten, nine, eight, seven, six . . . The little girl looks up. The picture freezes, and we move in on her as the man counts down, closer, deeper, into her eyes, swallowing her up— A mushroom cloud. Thunder cracks. Fire swirls.

Another man speaks now. A solemn Texas drawl. A former schoolteacher. We know him. “These are the stakes. To make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die.”

Finally, white titles on black: VOTE FOR PRESIDENT JOHNSON NOVEMBER 3RD!