Reviewed by Will Stackman
Satire might just be a more effective antidote to tyranny than realism. David Hare's "Stuff Happens", currently extended down at the BCA, imagines what might have been going on in the corridors of power in 2002 -2003 leading up to the current morass in the Middle East. A.R.Gurney's imaginative look at the state of these United States in 2015 resulting from such policies may be more entertaining--and effective. The Nora Theatre, inching ever closer to a new home in Central Square, has a first-rate production running in Studio A at Boston Playwrights' Theatre. Their production might just be better than the NY production by the Flea in TriBeca. The show was originally done by that operations resident company of young actors. Nora's more mature ensemble sharpens the irony at least. This is the script's New England premiere, back in "Peter" Gurney's old stomping ground.
His "Screen Play", directed by Richard McElvain, was written as a takeoff on the classic screen play for "Casablanca". The show is presented as a mock staged reading by a sound and experienced cast with a soundtrack of folk and old, old standards played live by Jeffrey Goldberg, one of Boston's best music directors.. The story centers around Rick (of course), played by a welcome addition to the local scene, David DeBeck He runs his family bar (what else?) in Buffalo, N.Y. (where else?). Disaffected Americans are once again fleeing to Canada, just across the Peace Bridge.
Among those trying to leave, amidst increasingly Draconian rules promulgated by "security" concerns, are political activist Walter Wellman, played in full voice by Peter Edmund Haydu and his wife, Rick's old flame Sally, played by Stephanie Clayman. All three of these central actors have impressive regional credits. Gurney's given their characters interesting variations and contemporary foibles as well, adapting the original film's WWII moral to current political passivity and angst. The actors use their considerable stage experience to keep the action going in the neutral atmosphere of a "reading."
The song for the evening is "My Gal Sal," part of the repertoire of Myrna, the joint's chanteuse, warbled by IRNE nominated Dee Crawford, who also swings "Shuffle off to Buffalo" and "The Erie Canal." The local sheriff, source of a great deal of exposition, is Charley Washington, done by big Michael Nurse recently spotted in "The Departed". Everyone's nemesis is Ass. Sec for HS, Abner Patch, a Bible thumping Republican played with gusto--but no toupee--by John Davin, whose comic talents have been seen at the Lyric, at Stoneham, and at Wheelock. His flunky is played by John Porell, who takes on all the minor roles, including a local thug who steals the requisite "letters of transit," and a bored French airline clerk. It's a change from his appearances for CSC and ASP.
Costume and props were coordinated by Nicole Dileso, lights and set designed by John R. Malinowski. Both achieve the nonchalance required for this show. If the Nora were in the position to run this show longer, it would be interesting to cycle more local talent through the cast as has been done with Gurney's "Love Letters". The company may be able to do such projects in the future as the construction of their Central Sq. Theatre, currently designated the CST, to be shared with Underground Railway, is completed. This script is the most successful of Gurney's recent trio of politically pointed plays, all started at the Flea. It will probably be revived by other groups as it becomes available. Nora's version, their 52nd production and 25th regional premiere, will be the local benchmark.
Around Boston this season, plays with political and social substance have garnered bigger audiences, which bodes well for the Nora and even better for Underground Railway, which often combines radical puppetry with actors in relevant pieces. Their new theatre will also be the off-campus locus for a project which has been developing new plays with scientific content at MIT, just down the street. Nora is also including several staged readings of new well-developed plays in their current season.