West (Critic's Pick!)
For aficionados of political theatre, being hammered with the “message” is always a risk especially during a year in which our nation faces a highly contested election. How refreshing, then, to encounter playwright Theresa Rebeck’s charmingly irreverent view of America’s governmental machinations. Regardless of your leanings, there is skewering aplenty as this fast-paced extended one-act exposes the depths to which our leaders will sink to achieve and maintain power.
Taking a page from the duplicity of Washington hierarchy, designer Aaron Francis’ ingeniously clever set, full of hidden panels revealing various scenic pieces, is lit with extraordinary detail. Likewise, with ever-increasing rapidity, the story of Emma unfolds like some sort of runaway train. At first an idealistic supporter to an up-and-coming Congressional candidate, her disillusionment is palpable as her ideals dissolve from jaded realization to vengeful retribution.
Director Meredith Anne Patt is blessed with an extremely facile cast adept at wringing every drop of humor from Rebeck’s absurdist musings. As Emma, Pat Caldwell is the dryly acerbic maypole around which the insanity spins. Supporting her with gleeful abandon are Donald Robert Stewart as candidate Arthur Moore and Thomas Craig Elliott as his mentor, Senator Maddox, men whose principles are available to the highest bidder. Liesel Kopp as a brutally rude political strategist whose plans go awry and David Wilcox as an opposition party opportunist are delightfully wicked, as well.
The lion’s share of silliness, though, goes to John Wuchte as a flamingly straight, conservative Christian wardrobe coordinator for Emma’s appearance before a Senate subcommittee. Said hearing consists of Stewart, Victor Isaac, and B. Todi as a trio of self-serving politicos who end up engaging in a pricelessly funny Three Stooges slapstick routine choreographed to perfectly timed sound effects by Bryan Bellomo, whose own anguished stress as Tommy, Moore’s campaign manager, is also noteworthy.
Where Patt mines pure gold in helming this circus is her obvious attention to crisp pacing. Not for one moment do the proceedings slow to the point of our seeing the next turn in the road. The Left is full of lunacy while the Right futilely grasps at Emma’s pregnancy, the result of a deliberate tryst with Sen. Maddox, in the hope of regaining the upper hand. The timeliness of this piece, penned oddly enough pre-Lewinsky, in 1996, couldn’t be more powerful as we see that when all is said and done, just as in the real world, no one exits the political arena unscathed.