Muckrakers, presented by Barrington Stage Company on the St. German Stage through July 6th, is a fervent and attention-getting play. Artistic director Julianne Boyd brings a world premiere, this one written by Zayd Dohrn. The result is acute, absorbing, topically vital theater within this intimate space in downtown Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
The political dimensions of the play are ultra-relevant. Stephen (Kahan James), who is British, recently chose to leak/deliver a variety of papers that the American government, by implication, would never have chosen to release. Hence, Stephen is receiving great praise, from many, for his proactive and bold disclosure. One of his sources is Andy, a soldier now jailed; and there is far more to that subplot.
Muckrakers opens when Mira, 25, brings Stephen, 39, to her one room Brooklyn apartment. The small area is jam packed with a couple of beds, a well-worn sofa, desk, mini-kitchen, semi-hidden bathroom and so forth. It is quite recognizable and most appropriately designed by Brian Prather. Stephen is getting drunk and the very attractive Mira (Kate Rogal) does not wish to immediately sleep with him – that would be his choice. He is a hacker/journalist and she is involved with an organization called The Durga Project. Asked to define, she explains, “It’s an online agit-prop-news.” She does not believe that public figures should have any privacy and that becomes the point of contention with her guest. Having gone to Smith College, she now describes herself as an anarchist but then modifies: “Economically, a socialist. Culturally, a dadaist…”
Try this theory: she is a quite youthful idealist more than any other “ist” she claims. Mira has hopes for this world and she is energized, fiery, and eager to make it a better, more open place. She values humans and her value system speaks her very last phrase of Muckrakers: “No more secrets.”
Mira and Stephen discuss, argue, parry, and, yes, engage sexually, too, during this 80 minute play. He attempts to explicate and define himself and his purpose more than once. Midway through, Stephen says, “Yeah. I don’t believe in state secrets, Mira. As you know. That doesn’t mean I think personal boundaries are irrelevant. Big Brother watches us, we should watch them back. But we all start watching each other, we will see too much.”
Boyd has stated that this second stage serves as a home for new voices, new playwrights, new work. That is surely the case. Both Bashir Lazhar, which recently closed, and the current Muckrakers prod anyone watching to think and explore further. Pertinence? Think about the man who founded WikiLeaks, Julian Assange; or of Edward Snowden, the former CIA employee.
Dohrn’s dialogue is sharply engaging. That said, the two characters initially chat for a while. They are getting to know one another and each has a motive. Stephen, a bit of a celebrity, wants to try out Mira’s Aerobed (with her) almost immediately. She is totally taken with her cause (no more privacy) but wishes to be friendly with and hospitable to Stephen. After all, he is at her apartment because her sponsoring group could not afford to find him an NYC hotel for an evening. He drinks – she elects marijuana.
The playwright is wise to allow Stephen some wry and suitable humor. I will hold you in suspense. Listen for the line when he advises us as to his audience.
Giovanna Sardelli, directing, wisely pushes the pace which makes for a totally sustaining evening. Amy Clark’s costuming is excellent. Kahan James and Kate Rogal are highly skilled and have quickly developed actor rapport; they seem to know one another well – and that is most helpful.
Muckrakers continues at the St. German Stage as part of Barrington Stage Company’s season in Pittsfield, Massachusetts through July 6th. For tickets, call (413) 236-8888 or visit www.barringtonstageco.org.
- Fred Sokol