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St. Louis by Richard Green

Lip Service
The NonProphet Theater Company

Also see Richard's review of A Life in the Theatre

Lip Service
Charlie Barron and Mark Abels
If you're old enough to remember old-school news anchors like Channel 4's Max Roby, or Dick Ford from Channel 5 (hey, wait, he's still alive!) then you may find yourself rending your garments or tearing your flesh as you watch Howard Korder's one-act about the descent of once-noble broadcast journalism into something resembling a despicable infomercial. There was a time, my children, when newscasters were born wearing tweeds and wing-tips, and did everything they could to reach new levels of dullness throughout their careers. Needless to say, that time has largely passed.

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 reservations@nptco.org.

Cast
Charlie Barron: Lennard "Len" Burdette
Mark Abels: Gilbert "Gil" Hutchinson

Crew
Director: B. Weller
Assistant Director/Stage Manager: Sarah Holt
Light Design: Nick Uhlmansiek
Set Design & Construction: Nick Uhlmansiek
Costume Design: Theresa Masters
Sound Board: Brendan Allen
Projector: Jonathan Ellison
Sound Design: B. Weller
House Manager: Suzanne Roussin


Photo by Tyson Blanquart


-- Richard T. Green

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