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Friday, October 17, 2008

Review- McReele (Conflict of Interest)

The Fab Marquee review by Dianna Martin.

Considering the political climate and the tension, hope, and fear in the air with November 4th less than three weeks away, one might expect the theatres to come alive with political plays.

Gerald McCollouch, Roy Clary & Sergei Burbank
photo credit: Erica Parise

It is difficult, however, to find the gems that go beyond the generic squabbles of left vs. right; or attempts to re-create yet another Orwellian 1984; or yet another parody of the current administration. Few shows take the time to dig deeper and really develop character studies that portray what could happen on an even much smaller political scale, and the transformation that can occur to people when they try to do good - and are caught between that desire and the consequences that even the best intentions can bring.

Conflict of Interest's production of McReele, written by Stephen Belber, is one of those gems. In the rough, but a gem nevertheless.

With a minimalist and highly effective set (designed by Ann Bartek), the audience is introduced to Rick Dayne (Gerald McCullouch) as he tries to get the facts straight concerning death row inmate Darius McReele's (Sergei Burbank) incarceration and the details of the night in question. McReele has been awaiting his execution for 16 years for the fatal shooting of a teenager when he was but a teenager himself. Dayne is a reporter for a small local Delaware newspaper, and is disenchanted with his work - and his life - and wants a story that will make a difference...and possibly free a wrongly-convicted man.

McReele, brought up as an inner-city youth, is extremely charismatic and well-spoken, expounding on his ideas on everything from prison reform to the socio-economic status of the country. Dayne is fascinated by this opinionated and magnetic man, and soon finds himself pushing for the state to re-open the case, re-examine evidence and extract a confession from the man that McReele says actually committed the crime - his friend who is already in prison himself.

Soon, McReele is a free man. Dayne's zeal for saving McReele carries over to his girlfriend, Katya (Judilin Bosita), who is a television host for the local news. She interviews McReele on what life is like now that he is out of prison, and soon the interview, and his life, takes a different turn as McReele's dynamic personality and natural flair for public speaking grab everyone's attention.

The only one not immediately charmed by McReele is his wife Opal (Iriemimen Oniha), who married him while he was in prison; she isn't buying the Darius that everyone is smitten by, because she knows more about his past than anyone else. However, even she, for a while, falls under McReele's spell. I really didn't buy her initial meeting with Dayne and Katya, for the character is incredibly rude (and I am left wondering why they didn't just ask her to leave); however it seemed more of a choice made by the director that did not work...exacerbated by a scene that could have been written a bit better. But in later scenes we are able to catch Oniha's anger, love, sadness and even humor - and the actress was incredibly moving in her work; some of my favorite scenes being those she was in.

Soon Darius McReele finds himself courted by the head of the local Democratic Party (Roy Clary, in one of three smaller roles he played brilliantly) to run against the Republican incumbent for the U.S. Senate. Dayne, after having quit his job to become McReele's campaign manager, begins to learn more about the man behind the mask of McReele; but Dayne's desire to have a candidate that he desperately wants to believe in comes into conflict with his morals. As his relationship with Katya suffers due to his bringing Machiavellian political tactics into her television studio, and his own belief in McReele is challenged, we see a man whose best intentions are in conflict with what he knows.

Iriemimen Oniha & Sergei Burbank
photo credit: Erica Parise

One of the things I enjoyed the most about this production was the way the playwright really hit home the idea that we think we know a person, or even the politicians that we are voting for...but we really don't. We know what we see on tv or read somewhere - but what goes on behind closed doors? And behind the doors of the people themselves? With all of McReele's smooth talking and articulate diatribes on how he could better Delaware, there is something about him that seems too polished, and yet what he says seems to make sense. He shows how easy it is for us to get carried away with an idea of a man - or what we think the man is - even if we spend hours alone with him. This is a play that makes you walk away really thinking - and not just about politics, either, but about the relationships you have with people every day and the trust that you give...and the willingness we have to give that trust away even when a little voice says we should know better.

Burbank played the role well, however there was an element to his work that seemed to be forecasting what we were going to find out later on. I never really trusted him, partially because he was so cock-sure of himself throughout the whole play. I never saw much humility in him. One is walking into the play with knowledge that something about McReele isn't so real, and the name of the play is very much a commentary on what the title character is not. That said, I think the actor did a good job and I enjoyed his performance - but I have questions about some of the choices that were made in his constantly moving and gesturing; it took me away from some of the fine work he was doing.

McCullouch did a fine job. He was constantly in the moment with his fellow actors, and believable as a man trying to make change happen in a positive way - and then not know how to get off the train once it derailed. I really enjoyed the scene with Oniha toward the end, it was played simply and his reaction to her news was so believable. I had serious problems with his relationship with Bosita, however; I never bought their relationship. There wasn't any chemistry between them that I could see, and I never believed that they really loved each other that much enough to make their separation all that tragic.

Roy Clary was a joy to watch, playing three different roles: the father of the murdered teen; the Democrat Party man; and the Republican Senator that McReele was running against. His ability to create three separate characters that were all very believable and very different was wonderful.

Director Leah Bonvissuto's use of the set was fantastic. I felt the staging was very natural, and I loved that they created complete scenes and defined where people where with the movement of a couple of chairs and a rolling cart. The lighting (Terry Alan Smith) really added depth and dimension to the production, making an already interesting set design even more diverse.

Before you go off to the polls this election year, I suggest you catch a performance of McReele - it runs through Saturday, October 25th at the Richmond Shepard Theatre. It might make you think about many things, and not all of them will be politics.

Conflict of Interest Theatre Company presents
Stephen Belber's
October 8-25, 2008 (Tue-Sat @8pm; Sun @2pm)
Richmond Shepard Theater

Tickets are $15 and are now available online at or by calling 212-352-3101.

Richmond Shepard Theater | 309 East 26th Street | Manhattan

1 comment:

Mark said...

Sounds like a great show! Will try to catch it. Fabulous, detailed write up and you didn't miss a trick. You critique, but praise the good moments. Very encouraging. Keep up the good work!