Monday, April 28, 2014

It's Miller Time At The Plaza Black Box - Zeitgeist Stage Company Presents "Good Television," Written by Rod McLachlan and Directed by David J. Miller

Jenny Reagan, Ben Lewin, Christine Power, and Tasia Jones 
in Zeitgeist Stage’s GOOD TELEVISION. 
Photo by Becca A. Lewis Photography  

I am frequently reminded  of how blessed we theater lovers are in the Boston area to be able to partake of a wide variety of excellent live theater on a regular basis.  It is almost an embarrassment of riches.  The latest jewel to be added to this overflowing treasure chest is Zeitgeist Stage Company's current production of "Good Television."  Playwright Rod McLachlan first play is a complex and very satisfying examination of the many layers that can be deconstructed in evaluating reality TV and its impact on its subjects, audience members and those who produce such viewing fare.  For several years, McLachlan's wife was a producer on the show "Intervention."  He based much of his research fort his play on the things she would share with him when she would come home from a shot. 

This play is only nominally about Reality TV; is is so much broader and deeper than this subject.  The play is a High Definition look at Real Lives as illuminated through the gel of Reality TV.  Another way of saying the same things is that the topic of Reality TV is merely the lens that allows us to peer deeply into the lives of the eight characters who demand our attention, curiosity and understanding.  The play is brilliantly written by McLachlan.  His few freshman mistakes are hardly noticeable amid the complex changes that take place within individual characters and within a kaleidoscopic mixture of characters who bump up against one another - literally and figuratively - in ever-shifting ways.  Through his direction and scenic design, David J. Miller has created a landscape upon which each of the actors is free to roam - exploring their evolving wants and needs, and struggling to overcome that obstacles that keep popping up that would prevent them from realizing their dreams.

The ensemble cast has been carefully assembled, and each deserves recognition here:
  • Benjamin Lewin starts the ball rolling with a mesmerizing and gripping opening monologue as Clemson, a teenage meth addict who is trying to get cast in a reality TV show that will pay for his rehab at an in-patient facility.  Lewin is a Brandeis student who is wise and insightful beyond his years, imbuing Clem with nuanced tics and shakes and verbal idiosyncrasies that paint the character in vibrant colors.  This virtuoso performance is predictive of great future success for this actor.
  • Jenny Reagan is Clem's older sister, Brittany.  She is masterful in creating a character with a surprisingly robust set of layers.  She is anything but the "poor white trash" that she may appear to be on the surface.  The character undergoes mind-bending changes during the course of the two acts of this play, and Ms. Reagan steers her Brittany through a minefield of emotional challenges that turn an apparently helpless victim into a vibrant conquering heroine.
  • Tasia Jones is Tara, a neophyte assistant producer who wears who newly minted MFA degree from USC like a badge of honor.  This wet-behind-the-ears idealist gets a quick education in reality and Reality TV when things get "kinetic" in the video shoot in Aiken, South Carolina.  Ms. Jones does a very nice job portraying her character's emotional and professional journey.
  • Christine Power is Connie, a former substance abuse therapist tuned TV producer/consultant.  The changes that Connie undergoes are surprising, for they are inverse to the metamorphosis that Brittany is undergoing.  Their emotional see-saw act is an important anchor to the dramatic arc of this play.  Ms. Power is - well, powerful - in portraying the full spectrum of emotions from control freak to freaking out.
  • Shelley Brown as Bernice runs the show as Executive Producer or Runner, and is juggling a dizzying array of projects while playing referee among strong personalities who often disagree about how to proceed in selecting "appropriate" addicts to film and what to do with the volatile footage once they have been filmed.  She occasionally allows her tender elements to leak through the tough shell that she wears as her daily attire.
  • Olev Aleksander is  Mackson, older brother to Clemson and Brittany.  He has abandoned his siblings and his dying mother to seek his fortune working at a local TV station in another state.  Mackson is another character who undergoes dramatic changes as reality smacks him in the face.  Mr. Aleksander shows excellent range is portraying both a bullying blowhard and a humbled and repentant older brother.
  • William Bowry is Ethan, brought in to replace Bernice on the TV show as she prepares to leave for greener pastures at Fox TV.  This smarmy young Brit seems willing to do anything to get footage that will make for "good television," yet turns out to be more complex than he first appears - like all of Mr. McLachlan's characters in this play.
  • Bill Salem is MacAddy, the abusive father who abandoned his family has not been seen or heard from in many years.  His sudden return to the family's double wide trailer triggers a cascading series of events and revelations that are volcanic in their impact on the family - and on the audience.  Has MacAddy really sobered up and is serious about wanting to make amends with the help of Jesus, or is this another scam?  Mr. Salem does a wonderful job of keeping us guessing.

Jenny Reagan, Ben Lewin
in Zeitgeist Stage’s GOOD TELEVISION. 
Photo by Becca A. Lewis Photography  

One of the things I like most about this play is that there are no absolute blacks or whites.  No character is completely villain or hero.  Ambiguity reigns throughout, and the audience must wrestle with how to feel about each character.  Only Brittany is a truly likable character, yet I found myself caring about the fate of each one of the characters.  This is a tribute to excellent writing, directing and acting.

"Good Television" will run through May 17.

Wednesdays and Thursdays @ 7:30 PM, Fridays @ 8 PM, Saturdays @ 4 and 8 PM, Sundays @ 4 PM with Talkbacks following the performance Tickets: $25 Advance Sale; C$30 Day of Performance Senior/Student: $20 Wednesdays Pay-What-You-Can - $7 Minimum The show runs 2 hours 30 minutes with one intermission

Black Box Theater at the Boston Center for the Arts
539 Tremont St in Boston’s South End

 Direction:David J. Miller

Olev Alexander
William Bowry
Shelley Brown
Tasia Jones
Ben Lewin
Christine Power
Jenny Reagan
Bill Salem

Scenic Design: David Miller
Lighting Design: Jeff Adelberg
Sound Design: David Wilson
Costume Design:Jez Insalaco
Stage Manager: Will Carter
Publicity Photography: Joel W. Benjamin
Production Photography: Richard Hall/Silverline Images.

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