Clueless in America

Setting his huckster's sights on no less a prize than the United States presidency, a slick-talking loudmouth unabashedly declares, "Truth is in the eye of the beholder or the mouth of the seller." Before his TV-reporter girlfriend can convince him otherwise, the smooth operator embarks on an ambitious though clearly fraudulent marketing campaign--an appropriately contemporary patchwork of focus groups, softball interviews and rabid attack ads--that eventually results in the nomination of two clone-like human beings to be co-holders of the nation's highest office. Never mind that the clueless candidates, who don't look a thing alike but piously declare that they're identical twins, can't be trusted to tell the truth about anything. What's most appealing about the two-heads-are-better-than-one ticket of our men Alex and Chris is that, in addition to boasting mean golf swings, their DNA profiles are the spitting images of each other.

Such are the slightly skewed oddities that dot the undulating theatrical landscape of Pat Gabridge's world-premiere play Blinders. Now being presented at Studio 44 under the able direction of Greg Ward, the two-act drama is a mildly entertaining study of the proverbial fine lines (why aren't they called "firewalls" anymore?) that separate journalism from advertising, government from politics and utopia from reality. Despite the fact that the episodic, multi-media production could benefit from a few more substantial scenes of character-defining confrontation, Ward and company's tongue-in-cheek approach makes for a stimulating evening of thought-provoking satire.

As performed on a spare stage adorned with three strategically placed television monitors and an overhead projection screen, a cast of eight performers (Greg Ward, Ruthie Ammari Pfeiffer, Sara Casperson and Kurt Soderstrom portray multiple roles) deftly impersonates a ragtag cavalcade of political operatives, foils and hangers-on. Margaret Amateis Casart leads the company with a well-crafted portrait of Karen, a conflicted broadcast journalist who's also the play's central character. At times fiercely passionate and coolly exasperated, Casart's crusader of the airwaves proves a galvanizing force. On the one hand, Karen maintains an unwavering devotion to the subject of personal ethics as she exposes the double-dealing nature of eternally smiling swindlers Alex (Matt Sheahan) and Chris (Eric Lawrence). However, for reasons that aren't entirely clear, the idealistic, civic-minded Karen inexplicably falls under the spell of her transparent, cell-phone-yapping beau, Stack (Charles Wingerter). True, there's the real-life example of strange bedfellows Connie Chung and Maury Povich (not to mention the kennel-sharing of political pit bulls James Carville and Mary Matalin) to serve as a model for Karen and Stack's unlikely union. But Karen appears to be motivated by a sincere calling and not by the prospect of achieving a Nineties anchorwoman's nirvana of worldwide name recognition, big-fish interviews and Dan Rather's job: As Act One ends, Karen pointedly asks, "Can purity be regained in a bath of blood?" Given her deeply seated commitment to truth in all things, wouldn't Karen simply dump the slimy Stack instead of manipulating him to achieve her questionable goals? Or is it part of Gabridge's message that even the most idealistic among us are afflicted with a modern-day, greed-induced myopia (which in Karen's case seems to include being swept off her feet by the cheap twang of lounge music and the air-freshener ambrosia of a sleazy salesman) that effectively blurs our once-proud vision for a better world?

Script developmental worries aside, the dramatist manages to touch a few raw nerves throughout the eighty-minute production. There's a cute television spot about a toll-free telephone number that promises to provide the caller with an opinion on any subject. "Why not try it today and use it tomorrow?" an energetic announcer intones. And another video clip lampoons the dumpster-diving lifestyle of a grunge-wearing slacker who, when queried concerning her political views, peers into the camera lens and mutters, "I'm not sure about a few things--like eating meat or drinking water." When combined with Ward and company's fast-paced series of live vignettes, the production effectively conveys the idea that our hip, riding-the-wavetops society is woefully unaware of the fact that our supposedly leak-proof ship of state has taken on serious amounts of water. And that, barring a serious remedy or two, much of what we hold dear in public life is perilously close to disappearing down the drain. Indeed, near the end of the play, Karen expresses her concern that toppling Alex and Chris might unwittingly transform the couple of blackguards into "martyrs, saints and gods." It's a disturbing indication that our willingness to accept appearance as fact--and, as Edward R. Murrow eloquently suggested, our tendency to confuse accusation with proof--has become the American way.


Blinders, at Studio 44, 2865 West 44th Avenue, through December 19, 303-561-1793.