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|A CurtainUp Review
McReele By Simon Saltzman
Undoubtedly playwright Stephen Belber has kept a conscientious ear and an observant eye on the manipulative power of our easily misguided/hoodwinked mainstream media and its ability to willfully deceive itself. McReele courageously, if not always cogently, illustrates this unfortunate state of affairs in the affairs of state.
The title character, a self-educated African-American, is serving a jail sentence for murder. He's a man with a plan who is not only able to convince an earnest investigative reporter of his innocence but also astonish him with his intellectual prowess and passionately felt political and social views. He is portrayed with a dynamic and charismatic savvy by Anthony Mackie, who made a memorable impression last season in Regina Taylor's unmemorable Drowning Crow. <review ).
Darius McReele now in this 30s, has been incarcerated since he was 17, the result, he claims, of his merely being in the vicinity of a murder committed by a friend during a drug transaction. While there is little doubt that he is an astonishingly bright and articulate young man, who may or may not also be guilty, McReele finds his champion with job-weary newspaperman Rick Dayne (Michael O'Keefe). Dayne, who learned about McReele's case on the prison web site, decides that he is worth going out on a limb for. With his help, enough evidence is collected for exoneration.
Dayne continues an active role in McReele's life. In what seems to be a rather illogical decision, he quits his job to become his manager and groom his protégé for political life that is to start right at the top, with a run for the U. S. Senate. That grooming involves a strict regimen to mold McReele's public persona and master his already glib manner of speech. There is much attention and focus given to preparing McReele for the lecture circuit with his somewhat heavy-handed and convoluted speechifying on subjects from welfare reform to job creation and foreign policy becoming increasingly preposterousness, and at times even sounding like double talk. Yes, I know. There is a certain reality to that.
Part of the play's problem is the characters' lack of credibility and the absence of a clear overall vision. It's never very clear whether McReele's confounding and conflicting political postures are meant to be honest, ironic or satiric.
McReele's celebrity is buoyed by his appearance on "This Week in Delaware,", a TV news show host just happens to be Dayne's live-in-lover Katya (Jodi Long). There's also a woman in McReele's life -- Opal (Portia), the girlfriend of his youth who married him after he went to jail but now resists a reunion. Portia knows more about McReele than she is willing to admit or forget.
Though the play, under Doug Hughes' surprisingly pedestrian staging, takes a notably superficial path towards its not very revelatory conclusion, it does manage to hold our attention. Lauded for his inventive and minimalist staging of plays like Frozen (review) Hughes, making his Roundabout debut, may himself become a victim of the text's hyperbole. Although the excellent acting is a big assist, there aren't enough sparks generated between Rick and Katya to make us care about their fragmented relationship. Without faulting Portia's acting, Opal's bathetic scene in which she opens the emotional flood gates seems overwrought in the writing and inconsistent with the slightly flippant attitude of the play.
O'Keefe is fine as the reporter whose blind-sighted belief in McReele becomes his undoing. Strozier is a triple threat as the vengeful father of the murder victim, a blustery Democratic big wig and McReele's alternately feisty and flustered Republican adversary. Set designer Neil Patel favors spare panels for which lighting designer Michael Chybowski's unsparingly provides illumination, something that he unfortunately can't bring to the wordy text.
LINKS TO OTHER STEPHEN BELBER PLAYS
Death of Frank
One Million Butterflies
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.