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A CurtainUp Review
Steve & Idi
The title character Steve hasn’t written anything worthwhile for several years. When his lover dumps him, he heads deep into a suicidal depression, unresponsive even to his closest friends. At his low point, the ghost of Idi Amin, the savage former dictator of Uganda, appears to him and Steve has three days to write a play about Idi’s life, or Idi will kill him. As an added incentive, Idi will stick around to make sure the writing progresses.
As Steve struggles to deal with this smelly, rude, and incredibly morally offensive guest, his life falls apart around him. His agent fires him, his friends become convinced he’s a delusional schizophrenic, and he succumbs (more than once) to anonymous sex with a young and annoying hustler. But Idi gets him writing, which in the end will save his life.
Is Idi a ghost, some sort of twisted guardian angel? Or is he a product of Steve’s deranged mind? The question is better left unanswered, but the ending seems to take a side.
It’s not often the playwright plays the lead as David Grimm (Measure for Pleasure, Kit Marlowe) does. While not the world’s greatest actor, he provides a meaty foil for his play’s centerpiece— Idi Amin, played by Evan Parke. Amin is such a larger-than-life figure that he’s bound to be a stage dominating scene stealer. Parke does so in spades. He’ is at all times the big, blustery center of attention, and at times I was convinced Steve & Idi was written to showcase him.
Grimm is a talented writer and actor, and this new play is quite funny, but it's Parke's performance that makes it so worth seeing. Forest Whitaker’s performance as Idi Amin in the critically acclaimed movie The Last King of Scotland showed Amin’s slow descent into madness by way of manipulation, paranoia and braggadocio; but Parke’s portrayal displays s charisma, an impish sense of humor and a rare glimpse of his human side. Not an easy feat given that his regime was one of the bloodiest of the twentieth century, with anywhere from 100,000 to 500,000 people killed. Yet Parke doesn’t play him as a raving monster, demonstating that moral ambiguity can sometimes be more disturbing than any moral absolute.
The ensemble manages to balance the farcical and existential elements of the show, making it thought-provoking as well as amusing. While the play is immensely entertaining, it is not exactly intellectually rigorous and does have a tendency to go for the cheap laughs, especially when poking fun at the theater industry. But Grimm demonstrates that he is both a versatile and droll writer.
Kris Stone’s beautiful set and Eleanor Holdridge’s tight direction keep the action grounded in reality. Steve & Idi is the first play of Rattlestick’s reading series to receive a full production. Hopefully, it will not be the last.
Try onlineseats.com for great seats to
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Playbill 2007-08 Yearbook