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Review: 'T.I.D.Y.'

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In the world according to playwright Eric Coble, Big Brother has gotten a whole lot bigger. His latest work, T.I.D.Y., is an absurdist dark comedy about a world fast spinning out of control and careening towards Armageddon.

Coble has written a pungent satire about the dangers of a wired world when access to information falls into the wrong hands. In a post-Sept. 11 universe of global terrorism, human paranoia, and the Patriot Act, T.I.D.Y. is startling and timely.

The play's greatest weakness is that the black comedy isn't black enough, and its post-apocalyptic E.T.-like ending remains less than satisfactory. Rather than delivering a decisively uncomfortable chill that leaves us unsettled, it opts for a fabled ending that feels wanting.

It all starts out innocently enough for the character of Emily Danbert, who has written a computer program for her local library to help organize its user records. It's called T.I.D.Y., or Total Identification Yield.

What Emily doesn't know and is about to find out is that her harmless software program has since been sold and disseminated the world over and is now being used as a weapon for mass control. When planes begin to blow up, innocent people start getting killed, and Emily finds herself being followed, she learns that something much more is at stake, including her own life. Sarah Morton gets it just right as Danbert, a reluctant heroine who becomes the unwitting target of a global conspiracy.

With a marriage that's fallen apart, a mother with a hidden past, and a best friend who turns out to be the enemy, things couldn't get much worse for her — so she thinks. Morton handles all of Emily's relationships with a chameleonic ease.

The rest of the cast — under Roger Truesdell's razor-sharp direction — is uniformly terrific, including Nicholas Koesters as the amiable ex, Rhoda Rosen as the gun-toting mama, Alison Garrigan as the fickle friend, Tracey Field as a double-dealing corporate head, and Kevin Joseph Kelly in a variety of roles, all equally antic.

The play cannily reminds us how computers, once considered a force for the greater good, have since become tools for perpetrating great harm as well.

Coble is an award-winning playwright whose works have been produced nationwide, including at Actors' Theatre of Louisville, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and the Cleveland Play House. An Off-Broadway production of Coble's Bright Ideas directed by John Rando was presented by MCC Theater in 2003.

There are too few political American playwrights, and fewer good ones, which makes Cleveland's own sharp-shooting Eric Coble such an invaluable commodity.

T.I.D.Y. runs Nov. 18-Dec. 18 at the Beck Center for the Arts, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, OH. Tickets: (216) 521-2540; website: www.lkwdpl.org/beck.

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