Trump's Accusers Take Center Stage in 'The Pussy Grabber Plays'

On Monday night, a play spotlighting the stories of seven of President Donald Trump's accusers debuted in New York.

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Jan 16 2019, 2:52pm

Jenny Anderson

"This story did not start when Michael Cohen called me," the actress Tina Benko told the audience at The Public Theater on Monday night. "I've known Trump for a long time ... He's harassed me; chased me; been obsessed with me since the moment I met him."

Benko was speaking in character as Jill Harth, one of at least 19 women to accuse President Donald Trump of sexual misconduct to date. A month before the election, Harth went public with her account of how Trump groped her in his daughter's bedroom at Mar-a-Lago in 1993 after finishing a business meeting about the pageant mogul acquiring Harth and her husband's pin-up competition.

"He had the power to take our little company and make it huge," Benko said, emphasizing "huge" with a Trumpian inflection. "Any one of you would've taken that meeting. Don't try telling me otherwise."

Harth's story opens The Pussy Grabber Plays, a series of eight vignettes about seven of Trump's accusers: Harth, Tasha Dixon, Rachel Crooks, Samantha Holvey, Jessica Leeds, Karena Virginia, and Natasha Stoynoff.. All but Dixon—the woman who accused Trump of entering a Miss USA dressing room where women were changing into bathing suits in 2001, who plays herself—are portrayed by professional actors who volunteered their services for free, as did the rest of the play's writers, directors, cast, and crew.

The play's co-creators, Kate Pines and Sharyn Rothstein, say the idea for the The Pussy Grabber Plays was born from a shared feeling that these women's stories had been "relegated to a footnote" in the history of the 2016 presidential election, which they saw as a wrong that could be righted through theater. After reaching out to as many of Trump's accusers as they could, writers worked with the seven women who agreed to participate to develop scripts narrativizing their stories.

"Maybe we’d see a flash of their faces on CNN every once in a while," Pines told Broadly in an interview last week ahead of the play's debut on Monday. "But the nuances and emotional reality of their stories was sort of swept under the rug."

Using Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues as a model, Pines and Rothstein have made the script of The Pussy Grabber Plays available royalty-free so that schools, theaters, and community groups across the country can retell these seven accounts of Trump's misconduct. But the play doesn't simply recapitulate the allegations of harassment and assault for the sake of keeping the details in public consciousness—instead, it gives each woman the opportunity to tell her story in the way she sees fit.

Some vignettes mention Trump explicitly, while others do so more obliquely, referring to the president only by his pronouns, or, in one vignette, as "you-know-who." Some take place before their subjects decided to speak out against Trump—like Karena Virginia's, which centers on a difficult conversation she had with her mother about whether to come forward publicly with allegations that Trump groped her breast in 1998.

Others deal with the aftermath: Rachel Crooks' for example, ends with a nod to her 2018 run for the Ohio House of Representatives, which came two years after she alleged Trump forcibly kissed her in Trump Tower in 2006; Samantha Holvey's focuses on her struggle with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare immune system disorder she was diagnosed with months after going public with accusations that Trump walked in on her and other girls changing backstage at a 2006 Miss USA pageant.

"I want people to see that I'm more than just a number or a headline or a soundbite," Holvey told Broadly on Friday. "Ninety-nine percent of people who've heard my name don't know I was fighting GBS along with all of this."

Holvey's is one of two episodes in the play that takes the form of a musical. Clad in a hospital gown, the actress Zurin Villanueva performs a duet with her attending nurse, played by Ashlie Atkinson, about overcoming her illness and standing up for herself and other women in the face of "these kinds of men, who keep on winning and winning again." The second musical number comes at the show's very end, in a vignette about Natasha Stoynoff—the People writer who accused Trump of pushing her against a wall and shoving his tongue down her throat—that Stoynoff helped write herself. The song, sung by the actress Lora Lee Gayer, recounts the alleged 2005 incident, culminating in a chorus of "fuck you"s.

The Pussy Grabber Plays make a point of being comedic. Digs at Trump (including one about his "mushroom dick") abound, as do withering jabs at Megyn Kelly and playfully self-aware ones about the prospects of Trump winning in 2016. The play's more serious messages, though, are heavily emphasized. The eighth vignette, titled "Credible Women," serves as a tribute to all of the women who have yet to speak out about their experiences with sexual abuse and the complicated feelings they might have about staying silent.

"Why am I the one racked with guilt and shame if I didn't commit the abuse?" actress Maria-Christina Oliveras asks in her role as an interlocutor between the audience and a "randomly selected" participant who is actually another actress, Tina Chilip.

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At the end of each vignette, the actors on stage called attention to their real-life counterparts in the audience on opening night, who stood to receive applause from the audience. After the final scene, they joined the cast for a curtain call.

"Apparently that motherfucker likes tall women," said Judy Gold, the actress who plays opposite Benko in Harth's sketch, looking around at the women gathered on stage. "Fuck him."