Monday, May 13, 2013

The North Plan by Jason Wells

Kerry Carney

By Joe Straw

Rex 84, short for Readiness Exercise 1984, was an alleged secretive "scenario and drill" developed by the United States federal government to suspend the United States Constitution, declare martial law, place military commanders in charge of state and local governments, and detain large numbers of American citizens who are deemed to be "national security threats", in the event that the President declares a "State of National Emergency".  - Wikipedia

The North Plan written by Jason Wells and directed by David Fofi presented by Elephant Theatre Company in its Los Angeles Premiere is a fast-paced, overlapping dialogue, prodigious show with wonderful performances by an astonishing cast who will have you on the edge of your seat!  And the ending will have you begging for more.  

Run to see this production!

It’s as funny as it is terrifying. As I’m sitting there, I’m anticipating the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the CIA, and the NSA to come, armor vehicle and all, breaking through the door, shutting it down, taking out the last gel, and telling us all to go home, or taking us to a detention centers without reading us our rights and calling us enemy combatants.  Guantanamo, here we come.  

Steppenwolf Theatre’s First Look Repertory of New Work (in Chicago) ran The North Plan as a workshop production in 2010 and Theater Wit gave it a full-scale production in 2012.   It was rumored that Steppenwolf thought this show too provocative.  They loved it but hesitated to produce it. Instead they recommended the play to David Fofi.  Fofi, likes cutting edge theatre, and picked a winner with this play. It is something you’d expect from The Elephant Theatres in Hollywood.

Set in a police station in a small town in southern Missouri, Tanya Shepke (Kerry Carney), being the good loudmouth Samaritan that she is, turns herself in for being drunk the night before.  Since no good deed goes unpunished, they throw her in the slammer, completely sober, for bad behavior.  

Tanya, with her brazen impetuosity, is up in arms about her incarceration, and will not give her jailer, Shonda Cox (Bernadette Speakes), the administrative officer, a verbal break.  Untrammelled, she spews forth a language so foul and loud one would think she was a chief executive officer.   (Think Meg Whitman on a good day.) 

But Tanya has a purpose; she needs to get out now because her in-laws will get custody of her children.  And she also doesn’t want her ex-husband, the man who tried to kill her in the bathtub, near her kids.  

Meanwhile Chief Swenson (Stan Roth), the low-keyed but smart sheriff, has arrested Carlton Berg (Chris Game) on a routine traffic stop, but finds out he is wanted by the Department of Homeland Security. He throws him in a cell across from Tanya.

Chris Game

Carlton is an irascible detainee and adamantly demands his phone call.  But that’s not going to happen. They want him interned until DHS gets there.

Now, Carlton feels the seriousness of his situation and suddenly believes he is not going to survive. He pleads with the Chief Swenson to call the State Department. 

Looking across the room at the other cell, Carlton spots his only hope, Tanya.  And while the Chief and the assistant are out of the room, he tells Tanya that he works for the State Department, that something is going on of extreme national emergency, and everyone is being arrested. He has an enemy’s list that needs to get to a friend.

At first, Tanya doesn’t buy his story. She flips him off and tells him that he’s certifiable. 

“I’m glad you don’t work for the government.” – Chief Swenson

“I’ve have the right to remain silent which means I can talk.” – Tanya

Shonda, the administrative assistant, leaves and Carlton knowing that Tanya will soon get out, confides to her that he has important information on his laptop computer.  He wants her to get his computer and take it to Eldar in Houston.

“Tanya, you will get out.” – Carlton

Now Tanya feels she’s in a pretty good position. Seeing the severity of the situation through Carlton’s incessant and at times incoherent babbling, she decides she wants more money, $50,000 and a pardon from the President.

“I want a pardon like Patty Hearst.” - Tanya

Shanda, hearing this, wants in on this action.

 “I am a poor white girl. Gotta get paid and don’t get all Jewish on me.” – Tanya

“You’re not a Jew are you?  (pause) An F**king Jewish fag.

All of the characters are worthy delegates for revolutionary propaganda.  And the actors are marvelous in their roles.  Do not miss this opportunity.  

Kerry Carney is magnificent in the role of Tanya Shepke.  Tanya is not a mellifluous character; she is a foul mouth creature, who finally wakes up to see the world around her.   She has a lot of problems, divorced, battered, and possibly an alcoholic.  But something happens while she is in jail, she is made aware of the circumstances around her, and she realizes she has to act fast if she can overcome the miserable life she is living now.  Carney has completed the character, the growth from moment to moment is remarkable, and she is wonderful in this role.  A perfect fit and a job well done.  

 L - R Dominic Rains, Bernadette Speakes

Bernadette Speakes is also marvelous in the role of Shonda Cox.  What appears to be a portrayal of a typical government official becomes something much more with many layers and funny moments. As the character Shonda, she has toiled wearily at this job, rising no higher than an administrator.  She deserves more but she is afraid to go after it. Speakes does a fantastic job getting what she wants.  

Stan Roth as Chief Swenson is a little low key for my tastes.  But the Chief, with all this energy around him, meticulously stays on task. Roth brings a sincere truth to the role, he is sagacious, and is not easily pushed around. He is somebody you want around when other people start taking the law into their own hands.  This was a very nice job.

Chris Game does a fantastic job as Carlton Berg. Berg is a man who is mixed up in something that is out of his control.  He knows whom he is dealing with and he tries to save himself by getting all of this information out of his head.  But it’s too much for all the others to follow and they look at him as though he were crazy.  There is a moment when Berg realizes his impotent despair.  He lifts his arms holding the bars above his head.  His thoughts are inscrutable but he finally is able to get his wits about him.  Game is perfectly suited for this role and does a marvelous job.

Salvator Xuereb is superb as Dale Pittman, a not too smart lead partner of the Department of Homeland Security. Xuereb is extremely funny.  It is a performance with marvelous details in character.  He is there not only as the leader but as an advisor as well, taking any moment to explain the job, the finer details to his younger subordinate counterpart.  He has a tenacious vitality and play-by-the-book mentality about him.  Even going so far as to wait for the official memo that is faxed to him. There is not a wasted moment in Xuereb’s portrayal.    

John Forest plays Bob Lee, the other ditsy partner from the Department of Homeland Security. As the character, Lee does not want to be left out as he keeps reminding his partner to not say “I” but “we”.  We did this.  We did that.  Not you. We. It’s pretty obvious that he has higher ambitions but does not have the wherewithal to get there. Try as he might there is a physical wretchedness to his character of wanting to be the best, but he is easily confused. Forest does a fantastic job in a role filled with humor.    

Jason Wells has written a remarkable comedy with very serious undertones. It is a calamitous near future elucidation of a small town, caught between the vice of national security, suffering miserable indignities by overreaching agents with a scornful disregard of humanity.  And, also, how a simple action can turn an unwitting person into a revolutionary. This play is a precise mechanism of intelligent design.  It takes a critical look at our national security system and satirizes it to show that our national security has proliferated like a deadly plague: one that shows little results and offers no accountability.   The language is not suitable for all but works well in the context of this play.  This is an outstanding play.

David Fofi, the director, does a remarkable job of having us look at national security and treating it with so much humor we forget why we are spending so much money on security that may or may not work.   At present, it looks like it’s in a sad state of classified disrepair.  That aside, Fofi does marvelous work guiding the actors and making the most of marvelous moments on stage. There is a lofty simplicity to Fofi’s work as moments are defined and structured, beautifully created, and then seized to carry us forward to the next unpredictable moment.  

Dominic Rains also plays Dale Pitman and Gregory Hoyt plays Bob Lee but did not perform the night I attended.

Marvelously produced by Lindsay Allbaugh.

Joel Daavid did a great job on the Set Design.  And like the characters, who are three dimensional, the set was like a living breathing part of the show. There was life going on in the front office in the first act and some king of heinous acts happening in the cell, in the back room, in the second act,  and all of it played magnificently as the actors lived and breathed the space.   And I might mention that all of this was going on in clear view of the Stars and Stripes.   

Matt Richter was responsible for the Lighting & Sound Design.

Michael Mullen, Costume Design, was pitch perfect. Everyone looked the character and Mullen was responsible for the great small town look and small time feel even to the smallest detail.  

Rebecca Schoenberg was the Stage Manager.

Ken Werther was the Press Representative.

Run!  Run!  Run!  And take a friend who works at the Department of Homeland Security if you can find him or her.

April 27 - June 1, 2013

The Elephant Space
6322 Santa Monica Boulevard
(One Block West of Vine)

Reservations:  855-663-6743

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