Review by Debra Wiess
Loosely based on Moliere's Tartuffe, the play satirizes financial corruption and religious extremism taking aim at an apparently broken US political system. In it, a Jewish Texas Billionaire tries to avoid prosecution for prostitution occurring in his hotels and money laundering of profits from his gambling casinos by helping to elect a Christian Televangelist to Congress and then the White House who he thinks will protect him due to his sympathetic views. This idea is not too much of a stretch given our current political scene and the pool of candidates now running for office. Plans go terribly awry when the Televangelist comes to stay with the Billionaire in his Texas mansion. Though supported by his like-minded mother, the Billionaire's efforts are countered by his younger former chorus girl Jewish wife, and his two adult children (one a very Gay boy) who share very liberal ie. reasonable/sane views. They are the voices of reason, and the moral center of the play. One wonders how they are members of a family with father and grandmother having such opposing views.
Mr. Hammond plays the Televangelist most expertly and he comes off as appropriately smarmy while holier than thou even as he gets caught with his britches down. Jeremiah Kissel plays the Texas Billionaire to the hilt. Abby Goldfarb does a fine turn as the Billionaire's "trophy" wife. It was a nice surprise to have Remo Airaldi pop in on the scene towards the end of the play as G-D in the midst of some interesting special effects on stage. It is just too bad he did not have more of interest to do, though he does sing a song accompanied by Annabelle Cousins; his time on stage was all too brief. With this one song we can see the promise of the musical that this was originally intended to be, and maybe a composer can be found to take on the task of creating the rest of the music. Rounding out the cast are Annette Miller, Scott Barrow and Tess Wenger, who try to do what they can with their roles. Directing is a very busy Stephen Bogart, who had one of his own plays going up the same night.
The decor of this all student-made production is impressive and wonderfully creates the environment in which the play is set: the Billionaire's over the top home with multitude of animal heads on the walls from his various hunting excursions. Among the mounted heads, on loan and displayed with ghoulish pride, is that of Cecil the Lion famously and outrageously killed by a wealthy US dentist earlier this year. The Billionaire is of course an avid hunter and staunch member of the NRA, and there are a number of guns displayed with pride on the walls as well.
The BPT and BCAP are two fabulous BU organizations that nurture and support new work by local theatre artists. And the BU New Play Initiative is a program that provides opportunities for the development of new work. It is through this initiative that this new play, which is a self-declared work-in-process, is getting this workshop production opportunity that will aid in its further honing and shaping. So audience members should realize that though this is a great opportunity to see new theatre in an early stage, that also means that there are still some things to be worked out, quite a few in fact.
Mirroring Moliere's Tartuffe, the play incorporates dialogue that rhymes, but this is only periodic, signaled by a bell and shift of lights. The rhyming dialogue was very clever and added to the play's humor, but the constant back and forth between rhyming and natural language for no apparent rhyme or reason (pun intended) becomes a great distraction. In the talk back after the show with the actors and author all became more clear when we learned that the play was to have been a musical and the rhyming dialogue were the lyrics of the songs! Mr. Brustein was never able to engage a composer as all who were being considered or started to take on the task very strangely took ill suddenly with all sorts of health issues befalling them. Mr. Brustein ended up scrapping the idea of the musical while still keeping the lyrics. Unfortunately a very odd and confusing shifting back and forth from naturalistic language to the rhyming lines is the result. This short run is intended to help Mr. Brustein identify issues and see how he may sort them out. This may be one of the things he will want to sort out.
The play has quite a bit of humor, mostly of the dark variety, as it makes fun of and jabs at the political right, Christian Televangelists, etc. There is much to amuse and campy laughs abound. But many jokes were a bit one-note and obvious, and some were constantly repeated such as the mispronunciation of the Televangelist's name. Also the play seemed to remain on a soap box as it put forth its political views on the current ills of our society. Another bit intended to get laughs is the Texas Billionaire's deafness which causes him to misinterpret what is said to him. He mentions as explanation that like his father he has a hearing problem, but he does not appear to be that old. And his deafness, like the rhyming, is only periodic seeming to occur whenever convenient, coming and going with a randomness that is unexplained.
Just prior to the start of the show some music was played and the voice of the Televangelist was heard on a loud speaker; this, one figures out later is part of the Televangelist's TV show that goes on the air earlier in the day and is referred to several times. It was a great idea to have this lead in to set the stage for what is to come, but there were no signals to the audience to clue them in and many continued to chat through it not realizing. Much like the Billionaire who sleeps through the Televangelist's show, most of the audience, too, misses the show, which is a shame. Some means of communicating this pre-show bit would be very helpful and enhance audience enjoyment of it.
The play has some intriguing ideas, but the story which can be overly preachy, as well as characters which are a bit too much like cardboard cuts outs of types, could use more crafting. The play will surely get much after this run.