BWW Reviews: MUCKRAKERS Challenges Our Ideas On Personal and Political Boundaries
The Harold Clurman Lab Theater, fresh off its Ovation-Recommended run of LEBENSRAUM by Israel Horovitz, presents the West Coast Premiere of Zayd Dohrn's MUCKRAKERS, directed by Don K. Williams, at the Act of Acting Studio in Hollywood through July 2, 2014.
Playwright Zayd Dohrn certainly has led a colorful life. As the son of former Weather Underground radicals Bernadine Dohrn and Bill Ayers, he started out his early childhood in hiding until the age of 4. Mr. Ayers, now an education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, became a lightning rod for opponents of the candidate Barack Obama in 2008 because the two men were acquaintances and neighbors in Chicago. Mr. Dohrn is now hailed by The New York Times as a writer who is gaining the attention of major theaters around the country, and no doubt the muckraking he witnessed first-hand during his young life influenced his writing in MUCKRAKERS.
Before World War I, the term "muckraker" was used to refer in a general sense to a writer who investigates and publishes truthful reports to perform an auditing or watchdog function for society. In contemporary use, the term describes either a journalist who writes in the adversarial or alternative tradition, or a non-journalist whose purpose in publication is to advocate reform and change.
MUCKRAKERS is a searing examination of modern journalism in an age when nothing seems to be worth keeping private anymore. In the play, the two characters caught up in the political espionage drama are Mira (Erica Bitton), a young female activist who brings Stephen (Darren Keefe), a famous and slightly older British political journalist, home to her Brooklyn apartment to spend the night. But as they start to expose each others secrets, personal and political desires collide, testing the limits of privacy in the modern world.
From his first entrance, Darren Keefe portrays Stephen as an uptight and certainly very frightened British journalist, thinking that "they" are everywhere and out to get him for the secrets he has revealed. While somewhat laughable, it is certainly understandable when he takes out a device and proceeds to test Mira's apartment for "bugs" before he is willing to talk about anything personal with her. While we do not yet know exactly what Stephen has done to warrant such scrutiny, Keefe certainly lets us in on his fear of discovery and raging need for sexual release from the tension making him feel like a caged animal in Mira's small apartment.
And of course, Mira knows his weakness and will use it to her advantage to get what she needs to expose him to the world and gain recognition for herself via her online blog. Erica Bitton is fearless in the role which requires her to reveal more than just her skin as she manipulates Stephen for her own purposes. She is one tough cookie, until she realizes what her actions have really accomplished. But there is no going back when there are no more secrets.
The HCLAB recently premiered Mr. Dohrn's play LONG WAY GO DOWN in May 2013, receiving an Ovation Award Nomination for best Scenic Design by Michael Keith Allen. Mr. Allen has again created another character in the play with his marvelously realistic multi-level MUCKRAKERS set. Allen's ability to transform the small 40-seat theater space into what for all appearances seems to be a very real and lived-in Brooklyn apartment is apparent in every detail from the art pieces on the walls and shelves, clothes thrown on the floor, to the slow running water in the rundown kitchen sink. Both actors move effortlessly around the set, making it feel all the more real. Adding to the effect are the often-heard city street sounds that fill the room but do not overwhelm the action. Kudos to director and sound designer Don K. Williams for guiding his actors into bringing such realism alive from moment to moment.
In the end, MUCKRAKERS challenges our ideas on personal and political boundaries and asks: if you were one of the few to know the true details behind an international event, would you tell the world in the interest of truth or keep a secret to save a life? Give it some thought before answering.
The Harold Clurman Lab Theater, the professional wing of the Art of Acting Studio, presents The West Coast premiere of MUCKRAKERS by Zayd Dohrn, directed by Don K. Williams, at the Act of Acting Studio, located at 1017 N. Orange Drive, Los Angeles 90038. There are 12 performances May 30 to July 2, 2014 on Fridays & Saturdays at 8PM, with the final two performances playing Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Tickets are $15 general, $10 student rush, and may be ordered online at http://muckrakers.brownpapertickets.com.
For more information, visit www.artofactingstudio.com.
Darren Keefe, Erica Bitton
Erica Bitton, Darren Keefe
Director Don K. Williams, and cast members Erica Bitton, Darren Keefe