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John Feffer’s “The Pundit” Draws on a Subject He Knows Well

The think-tanker’s new play, opening Friday at the Capital Fringe Festival, is based on his experiences as a talking head in Washington.

John Feffer as pundit Peter Peters in “The Pundit.” Photograph by Kia Rogers.

John Feffer doesn’t believe in offices.

One might assume he’s not much for sleep either, given
his current workload, but he insists he enjoys a good snooze. It’s
staying out of an office that allows him to be a co-director of
Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies
while also having written a novel, several nonfiction books,
and countless articles—not to mention his new play,
The Pundit, which debuts Friday at the 2012 Capital Fringe Festival.

The show, his fourth, should hit home with many
Washingtonians. It’s about a political pundit named Peter Peters who
himself in a news studio, preparing to discuss Syria. At the
last minute, the topic is changed to the semi-fictional Khazaria
(an extinct, nomadic Turkish tribe sometimes seen in Jewish
lore as the lost tribe of Israel). The pundit, knowing nothing
of the place, fakes it. Someone from Khazaria then calls upon
Peters for a favor, and that’s when the sometimes comic, sometimes
tragic, always satirical tale takes off.

Feffer, who also stars in the play, says the idea came from
his personal experiences in Washington. Though he’s worked as
a freelance journalist for years, offering opinions and
articles on various topics in which he claims expertise (Soviet Union,
Eastern Europe, Korea), his job at the IPS sometimes forces him
to sometimes discuss on air subjects that “push [him] beyond

“I’m not going to pretend I know anything about Afghan
culture or Iraqi culture,” he says, but then points out he can’t not
discuss them either, if asked. “Who ever says [‘I don’t know’]
on the air? It’d be nice . . . but also probably your last

After finding himself in that exact position a few
times, he decided to write a play attacking what he calls a “culture of
assumed omniscience.” The play focuses heavily on politics and
the news cycle in DC, where he says professionals have an arrogant
“New York mentality.” The problem in his eyes is that this very
attitude bleeds into foreign policy.

“The Beltway mentality is scornful of opinions in Northern Virginia, for God’s sake,” he says. “Of course they’re going to
be scornful of opinions in [foreign countries].”

This is Feffer’s first play with a cast—his first
three were solo shows—and he says he’s enjoyed working with others and
out that “acting is all about listening.” Having company on
stage also helps takes some of the pressure off, since his nerves
have been an obstacle in the past.

His first play,
Krapp’s Last Power Point, debuted at the 2009 Capital
Fringe Fest, where he found himself petrified at the idea of going out
onstage for his first
show. Of course, that was before he realized he’d made a
serendipitous mistake. “I walked out and I didn’t see the audience,”
he says. “I wasn’t wearing glasses.”

Feffer made that debut when he was in his forties,
though he’d wanted to be a playwright since college. After graduating,
he attempted to make a go of it, but after watching a few
scripts wither and die in directors’ mailboxes while awaiting a
response that never came, he chose the more stable path of
journalism and international affairs. That is, until 2009. He swore
to his wife he’d never be involved with another play after
that—but thankfully, like so many other pundits, he turned out
to be wrong.

The Pundit
debuts Friday at the Goethe-Institut as part of the Capital Fringe Festival. Tickets ($17 plus $5 for the one-time purchase
of a Fringe button) are available via Capital Fringe’s website.