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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review

Postscript by Elyse Sommer

As with On the Town at Barrington Stage's Main Stage, I find myself on the same page as Gloria Miller. So this is not one of those thumbs up/thumbs down takes on Barrington's world premiere but a Yes, I agree post after I had a chance to see it, but with the following additional information.

The playwright himself is no stranger to a world in which people have intense political points of view. He grew up the child of parents who were part of the radical Weathermen Group, went into hiding after an accidental explosion of a Manhattan Town House. He was(named Zayd after Black Panther Zayd Shakur) and was raised during the years when they were on the FBI's "Most Wanted" list and lived in hiding.

Like Muckrakers, several of his previous plays have also reflected his experience of growing up with this background. Here are links to our Zayd Dohrn review archives: Sick . . . Haymarket . . . Outside People .

Big brother watches us; we should watch him back, but we all start watching each other we will see too much. — Stephen
You’re old. — Mira:
Kahan James, Kate Rogan
(Photo credit: Kevin Sprague )
Muckrakers at Barrington Stage Company could have been written last night. The two complex and idealistic characters, Stephen (Kahan James) and Mira (Kate Rogal) discuss the destruction of privacy, the power of the internet, computer hacking, homophobia, whistle-blowing, idealism, political deception and other contemporary issues, not to mention their sexual lives and shattering secrets and lies.

There is so much in the script it sometimes devolves into political debate sans drama. On the other hand, Playwright Zayd Dohrn has created two very interesting people, though it would be psychologically demanding to spend a lot of time with them.

Stephen is a British journalist/hacker who has participated in a forum sponsored by Mira’s recently formed internet political action group intent on campaigning for full transparency in all governmental and personal, activities. Since her group is unable to afford a hotel room for Stephen, Mira invites him to her studio apartment in Brooklyn.

After an initial expository scene, they plunge into their political principles and then their moral codes. Despite some contradictory viewpoints they develop affection for each other, though they realize this is probably a transient relationship. Both are firm in their beliefs but secretive about key elements of their political and personal lives.

Dohrn’s script would simply be a series of polemical debates if he didn’t supply back stories for both characters. Their early lives unfold both as part of their political/social philosophy and when they allow themselves to be themselves. Despite the dogmatic disputations we understand, to some degree, how they arrived their respective orientations.

Though Ms. Rogal occasionally delivers a line that sounds forced, perhaps due to the script, she is a strong presence. The intensity she brings to Mira rings true for a mid-20-year-old radical, and James seemingly laconic attitude masks his fears and mistrust. Both actors are viscerally enmeshed with their characters and the author’s vision.

Director Giovanna Sardello moves the production forward unrelentlingly so that the audience follows Mira and Stephen’s discourse as in a fast-paced ping-pong match. The cluttered Brooklyn studio by set designer Brian Prather, lit by Scott Pinkney, adds to the characters’ claustrophobic paranoia. Amy Clark’s costumes establish the characters’ personalities – Stephen as a middle-class alcohol-swilling Brit and Maya’s Smith College graduate with a political agenda.

Barrington Stage’s St. Germain Stage at the Blatt Performing Arts Center is devoted to the development of new plays and playwrights. Dohrn’s play suffers from a few discrepancies which will probably be sorted out after several audience discussions. But like all talented playwrights raishees questions and challenging scenarios, in this case, regarding fuzzy and ill-defined privacy issues.

Muckrakers leaves the protagonists and audience with a great deal to think about and argue over. It is worth the eighty minutes of time to take note of Mira and Stephen’s concerns over the ethics of news-gathering and societal manipulation.

By Zayd Dohrn
Directed by Giovanna Sardelli
Cast: Kahan James, Kate Rogan
Set Design: Brian Prather
Lighting Design: Scott Pinkney
Costume Design: Amy Clark
Sound Design: Daniel Kluger
Stage Manager: Paul Vella
Run Time: Eighty minutes, no intermission
Barrington Stage Company, St. Germain Stage, 36 Linden St., Pittsfield, MA
Previews 6/13/13-6/18/13; opening 6/19/13; closing 7/6/13
Performances: Tuesday -Saturday at 7:30PM; Saturday at 4PM; Sunday at 3PM; additional matinees on June 27 and July 4 at 4PM; no 7:30 performance on July 4.
Tickets: Start at $40.00; Seniors $32.00 all matinees.
For mature audiences, contains sexual situations and mature language
Reviewed by Gloria Miller at June 19th opening performance
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