Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Ted Kaczynski Killed People With Bombs
Also see Richard's review of The Men From the Boys
Michelle Carter's Ted Kaczynski Killed People with Bombs opened at the Magic on October 26. The playwright has attempted to give the audience an idea of what made the Unabomber "tick" in this two hour and fifteen minute play with one intermission. The production is unfulfilled with some too quick and confusing scenes in the first act when dealing with the background of Kaczynski. Ms. Carter has attempted to put too much information in such a short span. She runs through his childhood illness, his discomfited years as a student at Harvard where the school put him into an experimental program that was very confusing, his unrequited love with a worker at his brother's factory and finally his writing of the manifesto with the ghosts of such people as Marx and Kant looking on. Writing a biography of a famous or infamous person for the stage is always hard and this actually becomes an episodic play with scenes that are very jarring.
Ted Kaczynski's opening scene is a quiet outlook with Kaczynski's mother (Anne Darragh) telling the audience that her son would never hurt anyone. The scene swiftly changes into a succession of scenes called "Exhibits," which show Ted growing up reading Scientific American with his mother. There is a young woman in a flaming red dress identified as Wild Nature (Celia Shuman) running around the small stage informing the audience that we will witness why this man built the bombs. There are seven explanations in all, and many are long, dull theses on the meaning of mathematical numbers, the nature of man, the lampooning of the crazy experiments at Harvard that sound a bit like a Beckett play. The first act ends with the brother David (Mark Rafael Truitt) and mother waiting to be interviewed by the FBI. David tells his mother that the FBI have promised them anonymity. Suddenly camera bulbs flash and they are "darlings" of the media.
The second act is much more comprehensive as we see that Ted has become a romantic antihero. The media wants interviews with the man, and many believe that he has a lot of good ideas in his manifesto, though most people have never even read the proposals. There is a clever vaudeville musical scene about two media people at the beginning of the act. The playwright introduces a victim (David Cramer) who is seriously burned and scared by the blast of June 24, 1993, which makes the play suddenly become alive. There is also a very funny bit when the artist (Robert Parsons) appears with his great self love on a television show to explain the first "known" drawing of the Unabomber. Ms. Carter has written a well constructed and interesting second act. She has also written a series of songs that are blues, Brecht/Weill and Mozart types that add little to the docudrama. The playwright has succeeded in what she states as, "I fear there is some kind of sentimentality that leads people to believe he is mad genus, some kind of anti-establishment hero. I meant to stop any romantic notions." Ted pure and simple is "mad."
Director Bill Peter has assembled an excellent cast of six actors to play the parts of Kaczynski's mother and brother, FBI agents, Wild Nature, a victim and media persons. Merle Kessler plays the difficult role of Ted Kaczynski appropriately with little or no emotion. His ramblings are that of an insane man. Mark Rafael Truitt is excellent as sympathetic brother David who is the exact opposite of Ted. David Cramer gives a polished performance as the victim in the wheelchair. Anne Darragh displays a wonderful sympathetic mother of the bomber, and Celia Shuman is vivacious as Wild Nature in her flaming red slip of a dress. Robert Parsons is particularly funny as the artist on the television show.
Larry Ailenberg, the artistic director, announced on opening night that the lighting computer unit had gone out and they would do the lighting manually - and the lighting was exceptional. The staging is also great with large blown up sheets of the manifesto hanging about on the top of the stage and going well into the ceiling of the theater. Props are also interesting; the two large TV screens with the face of an interviewer played by Celia Shuman are especially striking.
Ted Kaczynski Killed People with Bombs plays through November 10 at Magic Theatre (Northside) in Ft. Mason Center, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-441-8822.