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New Repertory Theatre

Also see Nancy's reviews of The Best Brothers and Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Esme Allen and Lewis D. Wheeler
Staging a play in the Black Box Theater at the Arsenal Center for the Arts is risky business, especially when the set is stuffed into the far corner with the audience seated at contiguous right angles, merely yards away from the action. There is no room for error with such heightened scrutiny. However, with great risk comes the opportunity for great rewards and I am pleased to report that such is the case with New Repertory Theatre's tension-filled production of Zayd Dohrn's Muckrakers, an insightful debate about secrecy, privacy, and the public's right to know. With intelligent, balanced direction by Bridget Kathleen O'Leary, it is impossible to find a seam where actors Esme Allen and Lewis D. Wheeler end and their characters begin.

As the opening offering in the second year of the Next Rep Black Box Festival, Muckrakers meets and exceeds the qualifications as an "adventurous, intimate play," as described by Artistic Director Jim Petosa. With subject matter that is virtually "ripped from the headlines," Dohrn dramatizes a Julian Assange-like leak of classified information by a journalist (Wheeler) and his encounter with an activist/anarchist blogger (Allen) who believes in total transparency, both political and personal. Following his speech at an event hosted by her organization, Stephen and Mira spend an evening together in her Brooklyn apartment. They engage in a high-stakes cat-and-mouse game as he does his best to get into her pants, while she tries to download the contents of his phone and access the details he has not yet made public.

There are many layers and twists in the story that O'Leary unveils with precise timing to build the suspense. Occasionally, the playwright drops a brief hint, but we can't be sure whether it is a red herring or foreshadowing. As if the storyline alone is not enough to quicken your pulse, there is a brief love scene in which Wheeler lowers his briefs and Allen bares it all (why is that gender bias so often the case?), but their physical openness is in stark contrast to all that they are hiding from each other.

In order to protect the secrets, it is imperative that the reviewer limits the release of specifics and, hopefully, leaves the reader wanting more. It won't spoil anything to rave about the strength of the performances and the ability of both actors to reel us in, making it difficult to decide which side to take. Obviously, Dohrn deserves credit for evenhandedly representing divergent positions without tipping his hand as to his own sympathies. (It bears revealing that he is the son of Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, one-time Weather Underground activists and long-time fugitives from justice.) Instead, the playwright raises a plethora of complex questions that cannot be answered in a 75-minute one-act play. Muckrakers asks a lot from the audience and you'll take this one home with you.

Muckrakers, performances through February 1, 2015, part of the Next Rep Black Box Festival at New Repertory Theatre, Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown, MA; Box Office 617-923-8487 or

Written by Zayd Dohrn, Directed by Bridget Kathleen O'Leary; Scenic & Properties Designer, Alexander Grover; Costume Designer, Tyler Kinney; Lighting Designer, Christopher Brusberg; Sound Designer, Edward Young; Stage Manager, Michele Teevan

Cast: Esme Allen, Lewis D. Wheeler

Photo: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures

- Nancy Grossman

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