Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Still just a rat in a cage

We live in a web of lies. Jason Wells' Perfect Mendacity tries to untangle that web. The web turns out to be complicated.

But here goes ...

Once upon a time there was an evil corporation. A scientist who works there, Walter Kreutzer (David Breitbarth), grows a conscience. A memo about one of the company's dirty deeds falls into his lap. He wants to blow the whistle, but he also wants to keep his job, so he passes the memo on to his wife (Diana Simonzadeh), a Moroccan expatriate who's had a conscience for quite some time. Predictably, she leaks the memo. Predictably, the company tries to track down the source of the leak — and Walter is one of the prime suspects. Slated to take a lie-detector test, Walter takes a course in beating them. (D’Avore Peoples plays the slick, smiling test-buster.) Along the way, his so-called friend at the company (Doug Jones) tries to entrap him. His wife decides he's a neo-colonialist weasel and leaves him. For good measure, she stabs him on the way out. In the end, Walter takes the test and passes it. The company surprises him with a second, unbeatable lie detector test. He's screwed.

Great directing by Michael Donald Edwards. Great acting by the Asolo Rep troupe. As to the script itself, Wells' play is stuffed with brilliance on many levels: great dialogue, great scene construction, great characterizations, a timely grasp of world issues. With all that going for it, the play didn't work for me. It took me a long time to figure out why. Then it hit me ...

The lead character is a rat. Truly evil characters (Alex from A Clockwork Orange or Richard III) can be fascinating. Walter, as Dr. Evil once put it, is semi-evil. He's just not interesting.

Wells -- who's pretty damn smart -- wrote himself in a corner. Heroically, he tackled two heavy subjects: (A) Evil, Blackwater-type corporations that get away with murder and (B) The technological assault on the sanctity of the human mind. Unfortunately, those two subjects cancel each other out. To make sure we're clear about the evilness of the corporation, the playwright's lead character isn't a Jimmy Stewart-type who has a crisis of conscience and finally does the right thing. Wells made Walter a rat trying to evade a rat trap. Will they catch him -- or not? Who cares?

Not me, folks.

He's a rat. I don't give a rat's ass if a character's mind is violated if he's just a rat who's trying to cover his ass to save his career. (For the only semi-good deed he's ever done in his life.)

There's no character arc. The character begins as a rat. He ends as a rat. His mind is pried open like a cheap bicycle lock. He's a ratfink, so I don't care.

Wire me up, folks. But that's the truth.

Perfect Mendacity
Through June 14
An Asolo Repertory production
FSU Center for the Arts
5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota