Americans increasingly tend to sort themselves into like-minded communities, professionally, culturally, and politically. So in 2010, as the words

tea party

took on a new meaning, it was understandable that most urban residents - who lean left politically - were baffled and unnerved by the ferocity of the conservative backlash. Who were these people and what did they want?

Playwright Rick Orloff was one of those liberals, but, instead of yelling at his laptop, he interviewed members of 20 different tea-party groups about their motivations, ideologies, and convictions. The resulting play, Chatting with the Tea Party, is culled from his 63 hours of material. It is a series of conversations between the narrator and a variety of right-wing activists from the hinterlands, while a Greek chorus of sneering liberal voices provide the backdrop for his quest.

"I have no desire to perpetuate left-wing stereotypes," says Orloff. "This is a liberal's response to getting annoyed by liberals' responses to the tea party."

The play begins in a cocktail party, where the guns of condescension and annoyance are unlimbered ("Don't they realize they're voting against their own interests?!"), and then spins off into the playwright's conversations with the targets of his friends' vitriol.

These interactions go about how you'd expect. Yes, they really do believe all that stuff about guns, taxes, the perfection of the market, and the tyranny of Obama ("He's an evil man"). They are fiercely opposed to what they see as wasteful spending lavished on the undeserving - the young and immigrants. They are all older, white, and middle class. Social Security good; food stamps bad. They are politically savvy and well-organized.

The play is an attempt to humanize Americans whom Orloff and most of his compatriots would never meet in real life. It serves that purpose, but anyone looking for incipient consensus will be disappointed. His confidants seem friendly and well-meaning, but the policy differences appear too vast to be bridged. Depending on your political views, you'll either dig it or be inspired to get involved and prevent these people from gaining more power.


7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Society Hill Playhouse,

507 S. Eighth St.,

Admission: free, reservations required.

Information: 215-923-0210 E-mail, (www.societyhillplayhouse.-

org). EndText