The play centers on Roger (Tony Bingham), a Christian activist working for a conservative presidential candidate (who does not appear on stage). It's Roger's job to bring in the religious right for his man. He firmly believes in what he preaches, though holes appear in the fabric of his faith and his uprightness as the election draws near. Julie (Tami Dixon) also works for the campaign, though she is more concerned with her appearance and her own political future. Neil (Jeffrey Carpenter) is the "money man" and lives in the ethical gray area of fundraising. As Roger goes from city to city (from one interchangeable hotel room to another) his bright confidence erodes through confrontations with Neil, Julie and his own conscience. Serving as reflections of his moral character are an accompanying assortment of hotel maids (all played by Rebecca Harris).
Roger starts out so sunny (and righteous), you might think he's impervious to any interference. He stays on track through the panic mode of Julie and her "me, me, me" view of the campaign trail. In her powder pink brocade suit with matching pumps and headband, she is drawn tight as a drum; you can feel the blood vessels nearing their bursting level. Neil gives Roger a hard time, jerking him around with condescending humor. When the dark side of the candidate comes to light, it looks like he may take them all down. But Roger's toughest conflict is within himself; he's in a bit of denial about his own character, and all those lonely nights in hotel rooms provide too much time for reflection on his past.
The humor of the piece is in the superb characters created by Reddin and developed by the cast. There's nothing particularly stunning in the chain of events: the self-righteous right-winger isn't all that perfect, the "money man" and the candidate made a shady business deal, and the materialistic political hanger-on is self-absorbed and shallow. But Roger, Neil and Julie are richly drawn, with caricature, irony and absurdity. The dialogue and the portrayals are simply delicious.
Bingham is a bit Kramer-ish, tall and lanky, and a little awkward. His Roger has a pleasant yet vacant look pasted on his face as he goes through a bit of a breakdown, as if hypnotized by the parade of hotel rooms and maids. Bingham leads the cast, always goes for the laugh, and is superb. The very versatile Carpenter has a little less to work with, but nails Neil's smarmy personality and disdain for Roger perfectly. After another comic standout supporting role in Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's The Muckle Man, Dixon hits the comedy and melodrama full-speed and never lets up. Harris rounds out the cast with the challenge or presenting five different hotel maids with different ethnicities and personalities. She does a great job with the most restrictive roles.
All production elements succeed greatly in the City's small Hamburg Studio Theatre. Gianni Downs' set is a close to perfect representation of a chain hotel room (providing a few changes between stops to evoke different but nearly identical settings). Robert C.T. Steele's costumes - for Dixon in particular - are excellent, as are Andrew David Ostrowski's lighting and Elizabeth Atkinson's sound design. It's a quick romp - under 90 minutes - but packs in much more than one would expect in such a short time (congratulations playwright Reddin and director Brigden).
Sometimes we just have to get away from the somber news that can bog us down. The Missionary Position, while not quite pure escapist fare (so much, we know, is painfully close to real life), is a highly recommended diversion.
The world premiere production of Keith Reddin's The Missionary Position runs through May 20 at the City Theatre. For performance and ticket information, call 412.431.CITY (2489) or visit www.citytheatrecompany.org/.