Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Also see Richard's review of A Life in the Theatre
Oh, yes, there are still corners of the broadcast universe where newsmen and women drone on about city council meetings like glassy-eyed Thorazine users, but they are rarely observed beyond the reserve of public broadcasting. Here, Lip Service teeters wickedly on the divide between the great modern ages of commercial TV news (the Avuncular and the Absurd) with cringe-making accuracy: B. Weller outdoes himself, directing with an irrepressible satirical vision, as a flashy new rising star (Charlie Barron) gradually usurps the anchor seat of one of those unshakable, fatherly news-readers (Mark Abels). It all leads to a delightful twist at the end, even as Mr. Abels' expression of weary wisdom fossilizes into something like a trilobite etched on a deep sea bed. And by the time that wrinkled visage is set in stone, we can't even be sure whether he's living or dead, as his kind meets its comet.
As the face of the brave new world, Mr. Barron's character is a ... well, I can't say malignant schmuck now, can I? But the sneering smarminess of his Lennard "Len" Burdette seems to reach freakishly cynical new dimensions here, far beyond even Mr. Barron's previous work as a cutpurse in Twelfth Night or as the evil twin in Ring 'Round The Moon. And the funny thing is that Mr. Barron and director Weller actually make you feel a bit sorry for Burdette during a brilliant series of black-outs, where the younger man gradually realizes he's trapped playing the clown, in spite of his vaunting ambition.
If you're looking for ultra-specific indictments like "American Idol Updates," or government agency propaganda packaged to look like news, well, you might be a little bit disappointed. Mr. Korder's script hints at the vast proliferation of video nonsense, which has finally pushed its way into a staid little news market, all innocence and flattery at the outset. After that, it could just as easily be a diatribe against St. Louis newspaper editors who crush unflattering critics; or against morning chat hosts on cable, who giggle like talking Barbie dolls, as a rebellious newsman stalks off the set after one-too-many attacks on Barack Obama. In this production, it's insinuating evil set against patrician good that grabs us by the throat, squeezing tighter and tighter, with each passing minute.
Lip Service is paired with another excellent one-act, David Mamet's A Life in the Theatre, and continues through April 20, 2008 at the Tin Ceiling theater in south St. Louis, at Compton Ave. and Cherokee St. (3159 Cherokee St.). For information, call (314) 752-5075 or e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.