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A CurtainUp Review
I Forgive You, Ronald Reagan

Who do you think you are? You come in here and hand me some "scheme" you thought up to make my life better. You pretentious prick. I don't need you or anyone else to provide for Ray Deluso's family. Now get the hell out of here. — Ray (to Buzz)
I Forgive You, Ronald Reagan
Pictured L to R: Danielle Faitelson, Patricia Richardson and PJ Benjamin. (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)
If the title resonates with specificity for manyand different reasons/either politically, socially, or economically, the title refers to the emotional task confronting the central character in John Anastasi's arresting play I Forgive You, Ronald Reagan. Ray (PJ Benjamin) is one of the thirteen thousand air traffic controllers, members of The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization or PATCO, who initially went on strike for better working conditions, increased compensation, and the replacement of out-dated equipment on August 4, 1981.

Ray is among the eleven thousand employees who refused to go back to work and were then fired by Reagan. Continuing strikers were banned from federal service for life, many of whom were war veterans and many subsequently consigned to poverty.

The main body of the play takes place 2004 in Dan's home in Riverhead, Long Island, but it begins with a brief scene in 1981 as thirty-something Dan is urging his co-worker, life-long friend and neighbor and Vietnam War comrade Buzz (Robert Emmet Lunney) to join with the strikers. Dan believes that Reagan will not turn against the Union that supported him with votes in his bid for the presidency. Twenty-three years later, an embittered, resentful and seriously depressed Dan is earning a modest income as a building contractor, but he is tormented by the past and continues to vent his rage at those who caved in, particularly Buzz.

Essentially this is a domestic drama. Director Charles Abbot keeps a taut rein on the feuding and the fussing and how it is realistically expended. As a former Medal of Honor recipient and a once proud government employee who loved his profession, Ray has not resigned himself to things as they are; nor has he made life easy on either his doting schoolteacher wife Jane (Patricia Richardson) or their twenty-seven year-old daughter Tess (Danielle Faitelson), whose acting career is going nowhere.

The most visceral look into Ray's mental state is the fantasy world he has created in the attic where he imagines himself at his old job. Designer Craig Napoliello's bi-level living room setting affords us a glimpse into the attic. In a number of touching scenes Jane tries valiantly to break through the volatile Ray's impenetrable defenses. Nothing can stop Ray, however, from being increasingly suspicious about Jane's friendship with Buzz. He also becomes unreasonably contentious when Tess tells him of her romantic involvement with Buzz's son (unseen), ironically a Union lawyer. All this plays out in the face of Ray's quarter-century-old hostility toward Buzz.

Despite the physical impression that veteran actor Benjamin gives of being a doppelganger for Carroll O'Connor, a.k.a. Archy Bunker, he gives a fine, bracing performance. Richardson and Faitel provide strong support, as does Lunney whose resolve to remain commendably steadfast, concerned and caring in the face of Ray's unyielding rejection making him especially interesting.

Though the plot has elements of a soap-opera even with its backdrop of history, it takes a back seat to the emotionally valid responses and realistic discourse between the characters. The tight text draws us into the compelling dilemma of a tormented man finding a way to forgiveness while still feeling the wounds of betrayal.

Playwright Anastasi is an active member of the Dramatist Guild of America and the author of Pied a Terre which had an Off Broadway run in 2007, but also is a practicing cardiothoracic (heart and lung) surgeon in both Pennsylvania and New York. It is a common put-down to suggest that a playwright stick to his day job, but in this instance Anastasi's new play is notable for its strong heartbeat and its considerable lung power.

I Forgive You, Ronald Reagan
By John s. Anastasi
Directed by Charles Abbott

Cast: PJ Benjamin (Ray), Danielle Faitelson (Tess), Robert Emmet Lunney (Buzz), Patricia Richardson (Jane)
Scenic Design: Craig Napoliello
Costume Design: Kristy Leigh Hall
Lighting Design: Jeff Kroger
Sound Design: Jason Crystal
Projection Design: David Bengali
Running Time: 2 hours including intermission
Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd St.
Tickets: $51.50
Performances: Monday and Tuesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 pm and 8 pm and Sunday at 3 pm.
From 07/15/13 Opened 07/30/13 Ends 08/25/13
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 07/26/13
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