Good Television

It’s my experience that good television is hard to come by, but Rod McLachlan’s play on the subject is great theater.  The action revolves around  a reality TV show featuring addicts, their stories and their rehabilitation.  The show’s producers find subjects they think can be saved and then set them up for an intervention, getting the family on board to help out.  The audience see the addict’s struggle and then sees his or her redemption. A heartwarming,  ratings positive scenario.

Of course success demands more success and now they need  more victims to fix.   Desperate to fill the time slots, they find themselves pursuing an unrepentant meth addict, and the path to his salvation is not so straight, nor is it guaranteed.

Mr. McLachlan, with his  quick dialog and finely wrought scenes, reveals layers of social bias and bigotry, and shows how the demands of success can warp the process and the product.  He tracks the mercurial nature of power;  how balances are upset and how suddenly it can change hands.  And then there are the fears that danger and uncertainly inspire. There’s no real control over reality.

The ensemble is strong and effective and here they work theatre magic together.  Bernice (Talia Balsam), the network executive overseeing the reality show, exudes the  jaded confidence of a woman so sure of her position she doesn’t need loyalty to anyone but herself .  Connie Cuellar (Kelly McAndrew), former therapist and the show’s seasoned producer, is smart, sincere, hard working and trying to walk the line between her heart and the business of the business. She’s tough and rolls with the politics, and the politics, somewhat benign at the start, get nastier as the stakes get  juicier and riskier.

When Bernice gets an offer she can’t refuse, her replacement is Ethan Taumer ( Andrew Stewart-Jones). He’s an aggressive, multi-talented team player who has no problem playing dirty when push comes to shove.  The  third member of the show’s crew is Tara ( Jessica Cumm), a young apprentice who only landed the job because of a family tie, but she is more than capable . She is eager and willing to prove herself and as the action progresses she gains savvy and confidence that for a change, give nepotism a good name.

Clemson MacAddy (John Magaro), or Clemmy, as the family calls him, is the sloppy, faltering, nearly inarticulate addict who might as well be a zombie. That’s what meth addiction does to a mind and body. It is his sister, Brittany  (Zoe Perry) who shoots the video that hooks the show’s producers on Clemmy’s story.  She is holding things together and wants to help her brother, but she really needs to get out from under the yoke of  taking care of him.  His life is a mess, but so is hers.  In addition to trying to keep Clemmy from killing himself, her unsavory husband has left her with two kids and she’s having to look after their dying mother.

Once the contract is signed,  older brother Mackson (Luke Robertson) comes sniffing around for his share in the gain and glory. He is a comic and tragic modern American everyman; media besotted, ignorant, arrogant and suddenly aware he has some big leverage here, being kin to his hot property brother.  Finally there is daddy MacAddy (Ned Van Zandt), hated by Brittany for his previous drunken brutality towards her and Clemmy, but who turns up, after being long gone, a changed man.  Now he wants forgiveness and to save his son.

The character names alone are something to think about, but what really works is the way the Mr. McLachlan handles the unfolding dynamics and surprising shifts in the escalating drama.  There is not an ounce of fat in the action and director Bob Krakower shows a strong hand in keeping the tempo and movement well timed and fluid.

 The production values are top notch.  The stage design by Eric Southern  presents the minimalist efficiency of a fast paced, cool toned corporate office and then in contrast,  the warm, well worn living room of the MacAddy’s ‘southern gothic’  home.   Costumes by Theresa Squire show a sharp eye for detail and are well suited to the characters. Original music and sound by Cormac Bluestone and lighting by Mary Louise Geiger compliment and enhance the action.

I could say more about the riches of the play and its production, but it needs to be seen.  While Mr. McLachlan, an Atlantic Theater company member, has done other writing, this is his first play.  Hard to believe, impressive, and I hope he continues.   I am still  discovering connections and nuggets to delight in when I think back on it now.  It is definitely one of the best plays I’ve seen in quite a while.  I might want to bring a friend and see it again.