Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Playwright James Graham has written several plays about British parliamentary politics, butfor a U.S. audience not up on the United Kingdom's ideological shifts since the 1990sthe clashes of doctrine provide the background to the way the characters react to them. The central character is David Lyons (M. Scott McLean), a Labour Party politician first elected in 1990 to a safe seat in industrial Northern England and, in 2017, seeing his own defeat to the Conservatives (Tories) despite an overall Labour surge. (To avoid confusion, the program notes that, unlike the U.S. Democratic "blue" and Republican "red" states, the Tories' color is blue and Labour is red.)
The play examines David's career through 10 scenes, with the first act going backward from 2017 and the second act returning to the same days moving forward. All the action takes place in the local constituency office in North Nottinghamshire, run by Jean Whittaker (Julia Coffey). Jean and her (unseen) husband, the previous member of Parliament who stepped down for ill health, are proud leftists and she resents that David, a centrist, is moving the district away from its roots. As summed up by Graham, what is the difference between a democratic socialist and a social democrat? Is David selling out his constituents or is he bringing their party back into power?
McLean's ingenuous manner serves him well as he stands up against Coffey, who is splendidly assertive and hilariously profane. Director Leora Morris navigates the ins and outs of the plot while helping the actors clarify their roles in the situation, most notably in the way that college-educated David butts heads with the crusty old leftist who also wanted the seat (Marcus Kyd) and with his wife, a corporate lawyer (Tessa Klein, doing the best she can with a thankless role). Emily Kester amuses as an office volunteer.
Daniel Ettinger's scenic design cleverly uses a turntable to ease the transitions without lengthy set changes. Sarah Cubbage's costumes (especially for Klein) and Jesse Belsky's lighting design are spot on and Rasean Davonte Johnson's all-encompassing projections immerse the audience in BBC election night coverage.
Olney Theatre Center